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Graduation for the Class of 2020 will be different this year with COVID-19. A letter to seniors in high school filled with hope and inspiration.

Having spent the majority of my career working with high school students on both sides of the admission desk, I have been thinking a lot about my colleagues and friends who are navigating these unprecedented times with the students.

I vividly remember being a director of college counseling on 9/11 and how that impacted students and families as they thought about what they would be doing after high school. 

This morning I woke up way too early, but in this case, I am glad I did. The first thing I read on LinkedIn was posted by Robert Kaercher, a college and career counselor at Byron-Bergen Jr. Sr. High School in New York is an inspiring message he wrote the senior class.

Rob graciously gave me permission to share this with our readers. His reflection on his own experience as a high school senior is one that all seniors in high school can benefit from today. In his own words:

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I start my senior classroom discussions in September with a very personal story. I speak about September 11, 2001, and what it was like to be a senior in high school on that dark day. I went home that night and watched the news with my 94-year-old grandfather. It was the first time I saw him cry. He was a spiritual man, a Lutheran minister, and he looked at me with tears in his eyes and told me that everything was going to be okay. The truth is, life is still not the same for many people who are still suffering to this day.

In the days following 9/11, all of my college visits and interviews in New York City were canceled. When I finally had the chance to return to NYC, I saw a city hurting. There was melted candle wax on the concrete, missing person fliers on light posts, quieter streets, and heavily armed police officers at the subway entrances. It wasn’t like that before. The mayor actually had to go on Saturday Night Live and tell the American people that it was okay to laugh again.

For a 17-year-old senior, things after September 11th were much different than before. Talk to me about it some time. Nineteen years later, things are going to be different for this graduating class as well.

So, here’s what is going to happen to you. The world is going to be open for business again soon and the adjustments you made in your life will give you the strength to succeed. You need to learn from this experience and continue to evolve. Being adaptable and a creative problem solver are going to be some of the strongest skills you can have. 

If technology is available to you, are you using it to better yourself? Are you checking email and responding? Are you watching videos that your teachers are putting on the internet? Recording yourself may come naturally to many of you, but it is still uncomfortable for many of them, myself included. They’re trying and I hope they continue. Are you communicating with them? They are doing this because they care about you. Connecting virtually for education and work is going to be a top skill needed in a post-COVID-19 world. How you adapt will determine if this is a time that you overcame adversity.

Your life will be different when things return to normal. This time spent out of school is going to stick with you forever. You will never forget your senior year, just like I never forgot mine. This will bring you together as a class. I am confident that you all have the resiliency and perseverance to succeed.

As always, I’m proud of you!

Mr. Kaercher

Mary Docken

Mary Docken is vice president, outreach at Intellispark. Mary has extensive experience in education having served as director of admission at two colleges in the Midwest as well as director of college counseling at Mounds Park Academy in Saint Paul, MN. before joining Naviance in 2006 which was acquired by Hobsons in 2007.