I was online shopping the other day for a dress to wear to my two seniors’ graduation ceremonies—because even if I end up wearing it in my living room while I watch a live-streamed ceremony, I am getting myself a new dress.
I got one four years ago when my firstborn graduated from high school. What I did not get then was a dress whose selling points included “comes with matching face mask.”
Being the parent of a graduate this year is very different
Being a class of 2021 parent has meant doing things I didn’t expect to be doing at this stage of the game, with and for my seniors. At the same time, I haven’t been doing a lot of the things I thought I’d be doing right about now. I feel like I’m still waiting to do them, even though most of them should have long since come and gone.
To say this is a senior year like no other is not to spark a comparison or a contest. This is not a case of who has it better or worse or easier or harder. It is simply a statement of fact: the 2020-2021 senior year is unlike any that have come before. To a certain extent, that can be said of every senior year, but this year the differences are even more pronounced. And I know from various parents’ groups I’m in, including Grown and Flown Parents, that I’m not the only one saying it.
It’s surreal, actually. It’s like being in a play whose script has not yet been written.
13 things that make this senior year atypical for class of 2021 parents
- We missed taking an official “last, first day of school” picture because we were confused about whether it really WAS the first day of school. (Does virtual count? Do we wait for in-person? You’re a hybrid student in cohort B: Is today an in-person day for you?)
- We’ve started pretty much every sentence about future plans with “maybe” or “hopefully” or “if.”
- We’ve saved money on Homecoming and prom dresses but wish we hadn’t.
- We’ve cried with and for our athletes and musicians and dancers when their seasons got cut short (or never got started) and they had to say goodbye forever to something it seemed like they’d loved forever.
- We’ve taken virtual campus tours and tried to help our students make one of the biggest decisions of their lives based on what they could see through a computer screen.
- We’ve gone longer, some of us, than ever before without seeing our college kids when their Thanksgiving or spring breaks got cancelled.
- We’ve seen more of our college kids than ever before, some of us, after they came home from campus last spring and never went back.
- We’ve looked on while our college students tried to figure out how to meet all the unaltered senior-year requirements for their major while so many ways of fulfilling those requirements were altered.
- We’ve parented students who are burned out, fried-to-a-crisp, DONE with the year. Done with doing the same thing day after day, done with Zoom classes and online learning and virtual-this and hybrid that, done with all the work of school without the fun of it, done with uncertainty, done with trying to make the best of things.
- We’ve planned graduation parties where every detail, including whether or not they’ll actually be able to happen, is up in the air.
- We’ve tried, some of us, not to talk too much about our student’s in-person graduation ceremony because we have so many heartbroken senior parent friends who can’t join the conversation.
- We’ve tried, some of us, to be genuinely happy for senior-parent friends who are claiming their limited-quantity tickets to in-person graduation events while we get ready to watch our children from the (dis)comfort of our living rooms.
- We’ve waited for something to happen—we’re not sure what, but something—to make us feel like senior year has officially begun…and then realized all of a sudden that we’re staring down the end of it.
Not everything has been different
But not everything about this year has been unfamiliar or uncertain. Some pieces of it have been exactly what we would have expected as recently as thirteen months ago.
We’ve wondered where the time went.
We’ve cheered for our kids.
We’ve looked forward with our kids.
We’ve been sure we couldn’t be more proud of our students…until about a minute later, when we are.
We’ve been taught by the children we used to teach and led by the children we used to lead.
And we’ve thought to ourselves that this is not the senior year we dreamed about our children…but that the privilege of loving them is better than the best dream come true.