Photo: Phil Roeder/Flickr

With the coronavirus pandemic denying him the opportunity to finish out his senior year in high school or celebrate graduation with his friends, Brandon Tran decided to turn his disappointment into a reflection for his fellow students on how to cope with the uncertainty and disruption of these times. 

Dear Class of 2021 and beyond,

It’s long been customary at our school for seniors to offer advice (on how to succeed in certain classes, what extracurricular activities are worth pursuing, study tips and tricks) to the classes that follow our own.

Accordingly, as a member of the Class of 2020, I wish to address and acknowledge members of those other classes, particularly rising seniors who are anxious about their future as they are about handling the stress of college applications.

To start, I’m sorry.

I’m sure, like me, you’ve heard this before but that doesn’t make it any less warranted or sincere. I’m sorry that your year and your plans have been interrupted, if not completely sunk, by the pandemic.

Whether it is sports, school dances, family vacations, hanging out with friends, performances and competitions, or even just the day-to-day minutia of school, I’m sorry that those opportunities have largely been taken away from you.

If you or your school simply don’t have the resources or means to transition smoothly to distance learning, then I’m also sorry your academic progress and right to an education have been disrupted.

And if you, like many students I know, treat school both as a place to learn and as an escape from a turbulent home environment, then I am particularly sorry that you now must endure that toxic environment even more than you otherwise would have.

I know that this time in your life is meant to be one of growth, a liftoff of sorts from adolescence to young adulthood. I’m sorry that this pandemic has impeded you from taking flight.

With that said, however, I’d push back on the notion that you are actually grounded. While it is understandable to be upset and disappointed by our present situation, it is unwise to allow ourselves to be paralyzed or limited as a result.

It is up to you whether this quarantine becomes a period of discovery or stagnation. I would challenge you to be inspired, rather than restricted, by the adversity we’re facing. Without the excuse of a lack of time, now is the perfect chance to pick up a new skill, chalk up a new accomplishment. (I am attempting to have my writing published by a nonprofit journalism website.)

Turn obstacles into opportunities. View challenges as feats not yet conquered and weave supposed disadvantages into possibilities. This is the best advice I can offer based on the experiences of my own, albeit young, life.

Finally, pause as you begin this upcoming academic year — whatever it may look like. Just take a moment to appreciate the people around you — family, friends, teachers. For me, the saddest consequence of the pandemic is people I saw and spoke to just a month and a half ago whom I will never see or hear from again. I played my last varsity badminton match without even realizing it would be my final match. I told my teammates, “See you tomorrow at practice,” without ever considering the possibility that there would be no more practices.

Treasure what you still have time to enjoy — whether that’s sports, clubs, classes or the precious company of fellow human beings.

For better or for worse, life will never be the same again. It will be different and you will learn to navigate it in a different way.

Finally, take a moment to review how far you have come before you focus on how far you have to go.

These are the words I offer you on behalf of the class of 2020.

•••

Brandon Tran is a graduating senior from Valley Christian High School in San Jose, California. He plans to study political science at the University of Southern California.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. Commentaries published on EdSource represent viewpoints from EdSource’s broad audience. We welcome commentaries from students and teachers about how they are coping with the school closures and challenges of distance learning. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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