Graduation day is something that many students look forward to. Whether it is from high school, college, graduate school, or even kindergarten, your student has worked hard and waited for the moment that his name is called and he is officially finished. However, with a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of schools, graduations have been postponed to a later date, and for many, during a time when they may be unable to attend.
While students of any age are experiencing a wide range of emotions during this time, graduates are in particular need of support. Whether you have a graduate at home with you, or simply know a graduate among your family and friends, there are many ways you can show your support.
Many of us are feeling different kinds of stress during these challenging times, and we all have different ways of managing that stress. Share with your graduate some of the strategies that might be working for you right now: getting outside in the fresh air, enjoying hobbies or creative activities, or reflective exercises like journaling or meditating.
Find opportunities to reduce stress together, like playing board games or video games together, or gathering as a family to watch a favorite movie or television show. Helping your student identify and work through moments of stress will help him not only now but well into his adult life.
Support Your Graduate’s Feelings and Emotions
The current generation of high school and college graduates, in general, has been through a lot compared to previous generations: the aftermath of 9/11 and ongoing warfare; the Great Recession of 2008, and the countless active shooter drills in response to the increase in school shootings. With all this and their 24/7 connection to the internet and social media, it’s no wonder their generation has seen the highest levels of anxiety and depression of any generation still living today.
Add to all of this the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, and it is no surprise that many students would be upset about missing one of life’s most important milestones. You may know that the moment will pass, that life will go on, and years down the road your graduate will probably not suffer from missing the ceremony. But right now, that may seem like the most important thing to her. After all, she has worked hard, waited so long, and has seen older friends and perhaps siblings enjoy their moment of walking across the stage to receive a diploma or degree.
As a parent, the first and best thing you can do right now is to talk to your graduate, ask her how she feels about missing graduation, and simply listen, without interrupting or offering rationalizing arguments. Acknowledge her feelings, let her know you are there to help, and then give her space to process what is going on.
Remind Your Graduate that a Ceremony Does Not Define the Accomplishment
After letting your graduate have some time to take in and process the reality of this year’s missing graduation ceremony, approach him again about the situation. He may even approach you first. Listen, and perhaps ask how friends are coping with the cancellation (or postponement) of the graduation ceremony. Focus on all of the great things he accomplished during his high school or college years. Reminisce about academic achievements, sporting feats, or special moments he had with friends over those years.
Remind him that it is all of those things that have helped get him to this point in his educational journey. Although a graduation ceremony is the traditional way of marking the end of a journey, it does not define the accomplishment.
Help Your Graduate Find Other Ways to Celebrate
This is easily the most fun way to support your graduate! While many schools are coordinating virtual ceremonies for their seniors as a whole, you can also create a memorable celebration just for your graduate. Consider baking a cake or fixing their favorite meal (or order in!) on graduation day. Send flowers or balloons to distant graduates. Join community plans to “Adopt-A-Senior” or participate in drive-by parades. Anything that helps graduates feel seen and remembered will go a long way toward filling the gap left in the wake of the pandemic.
Many high schools across the country are giving parents signs to place in the front yard acknowledging the high school graduates. If you have received such a sign, proudly display it in your yard, and perhaps take your graduate (and the rest of the family) on a tour through the town to see all of the other signs. Reach out to your graduate’s school to see what else they may be doing to celebrate graduates.
Ask your graduate to help you brainstorm other ways your family can celebrate graduation together. People around the country are coming up with quite a few ordinary and somewhat extraordinary ways to celebrate. Your graduate is part of a generation with not just extreme resilience, but also incredible connectedness and creativity; she will likely come up with a few ideas that will surprise you. Your job is to help her make the idea a reality.
This is a particularly stressful time for college graduates as they attempt to embark on the careers they have been preparing for throughout their education. High school and college graduates alike may be feeling anxiety over when and how they can begin their new career path. College graduates may be considering moving ahead to graduate school instead of entering an uncertain workforce.
Even though the economy looks very different from what we are used to these days, sharing basic skills like writing resumés and practicing for job interviews can help graduates feel better prepared. Spend some time with your graduate exploring the options available now and later. Sometimes just having someone to talk things through with goes a long way toward making good decisions.
Does Your Graduate Need Additional Help During this COVID-19 Pandemic?
This generation of graduates has been through a lot, but those events and challenges have also made them incredibly resilient. However, don’t let that resilience fool you into assuming that everything is okay.
Talk to your graduate about his feelings during this graduation season, and if he seems to be having an especially tough time adjusting to the loss of his graduation ceremony–or dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in general–give us a call. Many of our experienced youth counselors are still seeing patients. We would be honored to help you and your graduate to navigate this unprecedented time.