Graduating ... From Fear? (During COVID?!){is that even possible?}

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

On quarantine day 124, my emotions are on an endless loop, starring the five characters from the Inside Out movie.

Pre-COVID, I had already been pretty angry about women's access to prompt medical care and was devastated when a 25-year old darling daycare teacher, Tashonna Lachelle Ward, died after sitting in a Milwaukee ER waiting room with chest pain for two hours. She had a known heart condition and I'm 100% certain that if she had been a chubby white dude, she'd be alive today. But instead she was a brown lady, two giant barriers to health care in a timely fashion. Then Breonna Taylor, a paramedic, shot in her home... and then George... and Elijah... and Ahmaud... and Manuel ... and there's just not enough room for their names or all the other names or room for the anger and grief of their ridiculously senseless deaths.

And then the people who are anti-mask, entire states are anti-mask, heck even the president of the very large country of Brazil has downplayed COVID. (He has since caught COVID and, unable to handle quarantine, went on a nature walk where he was attacked by a giant bird, though, so, there's that. Karma's a bitch.) My top five balms for unrelenting disgust: #1 Sarah Cooper (Trump lip-syncher extraordinaire) #2 Ben Brainard

#3 Modern Family

#4 Smithsonian Magazine

#5 Chocolate, Port .... or better yet, Chocolate Wine

Meanwhile, admist the chaos, I was reassigned from the library to the school's senior support team. YAY. (Best job ever!) I was tasked with "helping" 12 seniors complete the necessary assignments so they could get their diploma. (I'm putting finger quotes around "helping" mostly because it felt awfully weird to try and 'help' a struggling student via Teams, and texts, and emails and weird dancing emojis.)

Favorite quote from a staff meeting: "You are not working from home. You are in quarantine during a global pandemic trying to get some things done." Second favorite quote: "You have broad shoulders and you never give up."

And in the role of student support, I bore witness to all of us cloaked in raw fear. Ever single one of us are all swimming in giant, sloshy puddles of fear. Drowning in fear, really. Barely keeping our chin above water.

One of the first students to contact me directly was pulsating with panic, because I had written to his parents to offer my support.

"You cannot ever tell my dad I'm failing three classes and won't graduate! Ever! I'll just do what you tell me to do, but I cannot stress my parents out right now." Oh, Dude. I think they'll notice if you don't graduate. The terror of staring down the hungry eyes of fear, day in and day out. One parent moved out of state so they could keep their income, fearful of job loss. One student, terrified that their essay wasn't good enough, decided to toss the first essay and start again. This was about ten days before graduation. (Yes, it actually worked and the second essay was a huge improvement over the first. But stilll..... ten days prior to graduation... )

Yet when it was all said and done, "my" 12 seniors graduated. By hook or by crook. I was honored to assist with our school's drive-by graduation ceremony. My job? After their name was announced, I'd guide them down the red carpet, point to the diploma cover that I could not touch and hand to them, get the student to smile nicely for their official graduation photo, and assist parents with pulling their cars up to the right place for a perfect photo. It just slightly killed me that I couldn't hug "my" kids that I'd helped... I was over the moon, seeing them walk the red carpet, appreciating how very hard they had worked.

Favorite memories: seeing cars JAMMED with relatives, like eight, ten, twelve people, grandmas and aunties and dogs all hanging out the window. Moms balancing out of the sunroof, a middle-aged version of "girls gone wild," cheering and offering photo pointers from afar. "Fix your hair!" "No, wait, your cap is crooked!" "Turn this way more!"

One car pulled up with parents, but no kid. ? Turns out their graduating senior was not well enough to come in person. "Can we just get her diploma?" The daughter was doing some eyeball rolling via FaceTime. Yeppir, they had their cute, freshly-scrubbed teen's face beaming from FaceTime.

I took the phone from the parents. "Do you want to walk down the red carpet?" No, that's okay, that's silly. Parents, a little over the moon. We read her name loudly and then I walked her down the red aisle, iPhone in my right hand. I was kind of stoked, frankly. "Do you want a photo?" No, that's silly. It's okay. "Seriously, let's do this!" The photographer worked hard to get the lighting just right so that we snapped a lovely photo of her iPhone-framed face in my right hand, the diploma in my left hand. I hope she gets better.

Saddest moments: at least a dozen seniors drove up solo. In their own car. No a parents, no goldendoodle barking out the window, no pushy uncle in the back seat with a camcorder from 1998. Uck, broke my heart.

A very sad, droopy guy walks up and says "I'm just here for my diploma." No cap, no tassle, no gown. He'd driven himself and wasn't sure where to go. He swipes the diploma cover, looks extra dejected when I inform him the official diploma with his name on it will be mailed to him. When I say "Step over there for your picture," he just says, with a droopy sigh, no. No thanks. I don't need a picture. "It's free ... " Again, no, no thanks. "Seriously, you'll thank me in, ohhh, about twenty years. It's just 30 seconds of your life. Are you sure?" Yep. He walks back to his car and drives away, no pomp. No circumstance.

It bugged me. How could someone have no one to cheer for them? I was so wrecked by the sadness of the self-driving seniors, it reminded me Sadness laying down and telling Joy "I'm too sad to walk."

With about thirty minutes left of the ceremony, a carload of whooping teen boys drive up and the driver approaches me. "Can I go again?" Hmm. I'm trying to think this through. The kids were assigned a drive up time based on their last name. There wasn't a line... should I check with someone?

"Do you remember me? I was here before and didn't want a picture." O ... M ... Geee! Somehow, the droopy guy that went solo ... he rustled up a carload of friends. He had a cap and gown and the tassle and laughing, cheering friends, heads hanging out the window. Yes, he went again. Down the red carpet with a stop for his official graduation photo. Oh! How I wanted to hug him.

Returning dude is the personification of courage. Whatever lack of support he was struggling with, he found a way to turn it around. He claimed his rightful rite of passage.

I didn't realize that Pomp and Circumstance actually has lyrics. Who knew? Most of the lyrics are pretty, ummm, archaic ... but the first two lines say it all:

"Dear Land of hope, thy hope is crowned. God make thee mightier yet!"

(I mean, seriously, if I were an English teacher grading that lyric, I'd be like, "Um, okay C+ for effort, but don't use the word 'hope' twice in the same sentence. Hie thee hence to, dude." )

I think we need more ritual in our lives. As we eventually emerge (knock wood) from this frackin quarantine, we need to stop, listen the music. Move our tassle to the other side. Get proof that we did it. We survived. That heinous, angry virus nipping at our heels as we ran for cover. With the wolfish fear, drooling and panting and barking and farting at our doorstep, we beat it back. We have, thus far, survived one hundred-twenty-ish hunkered down days. May we be equally resilient the next one hundred.

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