Jewish Insight for Consoling and Congratulating the Class of 2020

April 13, 2020Rabbi David Wirtschafter

During the course of the past few weeks, it has become increasingly clear the class of 2020 has been cheated out of the celebration it deserves.

From the prom night rituals of dresses and tuxedoes to the graduation rites of caps and gowns and marching down the aisle to “pomp and circumstance” this year’s crop of high school, college, and graduate students have been robbed of the robes that are rightfully theirs. In some families, both a high school and college senior are losing out on graduation ceremonies via some form of postponement or another.

In the long run, these losses are nowhere near as somber or devastating as layoffs, hospitalization, death, and other significant, life-changing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.  And yet, the observation that millions of people have worse problems conveys condescension rather than consolation.

For our students, the loss of their end-of-year plans and graduation festivities is indeed a very real loss – and we should recognize it as one.

I’m reminded of a powerful anecdote in Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim about two friends playing a game of hide and seek.

In the story, one friend has long and faithfully played seeker, but when his turn finally comes to hide, he is ditched by his thoughtless friend the game unceremoniously ended. When the confused child eventually realizes what has happened, he runs home crying – but rather than dismissing his tears as trivial, his parent bursts out crying, too.

“Why are you crying?” asks the child.

“Because,” replies the parent, “it the same way with us and the Holy One. All too soon, we give up the search for the Eternal, leaving God wondering, ‘Why have my beloved abandoned me?’”

In this time of crisis and pain, for so many of us, in so many ways and forms, may we be like the loving parent in this tale – the one who takes seriously the pain of others and who, rather than dismissing it as silly, sees the disappointment of a children’s game as something of cosmic significance.

Our graduates – of any program, of any age – don’t need to be told that worse things are happening in the world. In their world, the cancellation and postponement of graduation activities is a big deal. That alone should be reason enough to join them in sadness for what they are losing.

And so, to the class of 2020, we offer you consolation. You deserve a bigger and better celebration then this spring has to offer. We congratulate you on what you’ve achieved and wish you nothing but success at the next stage of life.

The COIVID-19 crisis has already changed your lives, but it need not define them. You have the resilience, strength and persistence to overcome the pain and turmoil of this pandemic.

One day, your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will ask you questions about these difficult times, just as we asked our elders about the great depression and World War II. May the story your generation tells be one that inspires generations to come.

As we say when we go from one book of Torah to another, and one phase of life to another, Chazak, Chazak, V'nitchazeik. May all of you, always, go from strength to strength.

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