The Class of 2020
IMAGE CAPTION: Thank you for the light, class of 2020 high school graduates.
Many Americans who lived through 9/11 carry an invisible scar etched in their minds, a reminder of the unspeakable tragedy that plagued our nation. Time helped us heal, the pain made us stronger, and collectively, we transcended. Once this occurs, life has new meaning.
During the catastrophic event, I was teaching social studies in a middle school right outside New York City. A few students lost their parents that day, and my husband lost his best friend from childhood. Our hearts broke for the innocent lives lost and the countless people who were suffering.
That September, I was heading into my second trimester, pregnant with our firstborn and the first grandchild on both sides of the family. It should have been a time to rejoice—but instead, it was a time of mourning.
To add to our darkness, my father-in-law was in the hospital. The radiation treatment he had received as a young boy with cancer had permanently damaged his body. His heart was failing. I was convinced my pregnancy was going to save him. It didn’t. He spent the remainder of his life at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. We waited a few days after 9/11 before driving over the George Washington Bridge to visit him. Whenever we drove into the city, I was haunted with images of the bridge blowing up.
On December 7, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, my father-in-law passed away. My daughter was due in less than three months. I should have been celebrating––but again, we were mourning.
Nearly six months after the 9/11 attacks, the country was still fractured, and after having lost our only patriarch, our family was fractured, too. But then our daughter was born, and her presence served as a much-needed healing. We were blessed. She was our shining light, illuminating us with a renewed faith in the future and allowing us to experience life’s greatest miracle.
Eighteen years later, we’ve entered another dark period of history, a time when we’re supposed to be jubilant––because our daughter just graduated from high school and is supposed to head off to college in the fall. But at this point, we’re not even sure what that’s going to look like.
As the pandemic continues to plague our nation, she and her classmates, along with every other senior, are now mourning the loss of what should have been an exciting time in their lives. COVID-19 stole their last, most memorable days of school. The class of 2020 will look back on this period, and instead of reminiscing about their prom, graduation parties, senior skip day, and so much more, they will remember how these celebratory occasions were ransacked by a deadly virus.
But what’s better than a brilliant rainbow coloring the sky after a storm?
In my heart, I believe there’s something special about the babies born in the year 2002, in the aftermath of 9/11, who are now about to enter adulthood. Maybe having experienced the sad and anxious emotions while in their mother’s wombs (scientific studies have verified this), as well as the disappointment of losing their senior year under a heavy cloud of fear and worry about the pandemic, will serve them well.
Maybe these tragedies made them more compassionate humans. These young adults innately understand that life is fragile, that life can turn upside down in an instant, but that life is also miraculous and beautiful. I am confident that this graduating class will embark on their next chapter––and into their future––resilient, armed, and ready for whatever comes their way, and with the same loving hope and glowing sunshine they poured onto the world when they took their first breaths.