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To the Graduating Class of Covid-19

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This address is to all graduates, high school and college, of the 2019-2020 school year.

Who could have told us in September, that this is how our educational journey would end? Who could have told us that many of us would finish our coursework though online tools such as Zoom and Slack. Who could have told us that our visions of donning our cap and gown before walking into commencement with friends and classmates would not be a reality? Who could have told us that our friends and family would not attend the finish line that we have all pursued?

As I write this, I have just finished my last final of my undergraduate degree in Computer Science at Brigham Young University. Am I now a graduate? Do I have to wait until the day of commencement to deserve that title? What happens when you have spent years running a race, only to find out that the finish line is no longer there? That is exactly how I feel. I feel as though, I have run 26 miles of a 26.2 mile marathon to discover that I will not experience the euphoria and closure of crossing the finish line. This is a difficult, and unexpected place to be in. But I hope that my words will be some help as we examine what we can do with the unique circumstances before us.

An unexpected ending

My heart aches for those of my classmates who never got to finish their senior season of basketball. For those who no longer get to take part in a culminating senior performance on stage. For those high school seniors who do not get to experience a senior prom. We understand the importance of cancelling these events, but it doesn't make it any easier to let them go. Please, allow yourself to mourn missing these events. Allow yourself to feel the loss. Talk about it with trusted friends and family if it helps.

But as we mourn our losses, we must recognize that the challenge of missing out on the pomp and circumstance of graduation is but a small moment in our lives. Similarly, the challenge of giving up on the festivities of graduation is nothing compared the challenges many in the world are facing today. Although civilization has made great strides throughout history to strengthen, lift, and shore up the human race, recent events have shown that we are vulnerable. Despite the wealth and resources spread across the world, we are at the mercy of a small, insignificant virus. A virus that has infected millions of people, and affected billions.

My family and I have been self-quarantined with parents for over a month, practicing "social-distancing" with no end in sight. Though distancing measures are crucial to slowing the spread of Covid-19 and to save lives, it does so at a cost. We who are finishing school and are entering the world are doing so at a singular time in human history. A time when economies across the globe have stopped. A time where businesses who were not prepared for a crisis such as this are struggling to stay afloat. A time where unemployment claims are reaching record highs. I know that many of us are unable to get jobs to support ourselves and our families. Others of us thought that we had secured jobs and internships only to have those offers rescinded as companies struggle. For those of us fortunate enough to still have work moving forward, we fear that it will take a long time for the economy to rebound.

We have complete uncertainty right now. We have no idea what the world will look like one week from now, one month from now, or one year from now. These are bleak circumstances in which to begin the next phase of our lives. Yet it is not our circumstances that dictate our future success and happiness. It is learning how to deal with our failures and setbacks. It is our focus on what is good, full of love and life. I invite each of us to rise to the challenge that life has placed before us. I invite each of us to go forward into the next phase of life with hope for a better world, one that we can create.

Not only an ending

As I wrote above, this moment feels like mile 26 of a marathon, or the end of a long hike, minutes before the summit. Even if the end of your education endurance race, or the last steps as you climb your learning summit are not what you expected them to be, I invite you to look back with me at where you have come. For me, I will be completing my degree in Computer Science at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. This is the last of sixteen years of challenging myself in school work, service, and extra-curricular activities. And as I look back on my long, challenging and joyful journey I am filled with gratitude for the experiences that I have had. I am grateful for the friendships that I have made, the opportunities that I have had to serve, the lessons I have learned, and the family that has supported me. As I look back on where my journey has brought me, I know that this moment in my life is not only an unconventional ending, but a beautiful beginning.

Some of us are entering the medical field to join the health-care heroes who have worked tirelessly to combat Covid-19 and to care for the sick. Others of us are entering the technology sector where software can offer some help those who have been most affected. Let us learn and carry forward the lessons that these trying times are trying to teach us. Let us learn the social responsibility that it takes to self-quarantine and social distance for the good of those around us who are vulnerable. Let us learn the principle of economic preparedness as we recognize that the world can turn on its head in a matter of weeks or months. Let us learn the value of empathy as we try to help those who have it much harder than we do.

This unconventional ending will not end our relationships with our friends, classmates and co-workers. It will not take away from all the time, effort and struggle it has taken to get to this point. Walking at graduation is not required to give our efforts meaning. How we chose to use the fruits of our educational labors is what will give our meaning to our efforts. Brigham Young University has an unofficial motto, "Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve." This spring, we have fulfilled the first half of that maxim by finishing our formal education. Now, I invite you to join me and go forth to serve in a world that needs us more than ever.