To The High School Seniors

In a time of unknown for so many people, I know the shutdowns and cancellations have affected every single person in America. I understand the necessity behind these  shutdowns and the fact that everyone is doing the best they can to keep our country and community safe. I KNOW this is a scary virus, and that there are a lot of people suffering in a lot of different ways. I pray for those affected by this virus often, and I think about them often. However, as a high school teacher that immerses herself into the teenage culture every single day, there has been one group of people that I simply can’t get out of my mind when it comes to those affected by the cancellations and changes: the seniors -the class of 2020. The 17 and 18 years olds who had dreams and expectations and who never ever imagined this reality. Those students are where my heart is today.

When our school was told we were going to be shut down for 6 weeks, I was sitting with a group of 20 juniors (one of my AP English classes). You could see the initial shock, then excitement, and then some anxiety based on the unknown of what was to come. Six weeks off of school in the midst of spring semester? Sounds amazing to the typical high school student, but as humans, many of us crave some sort of a routine, so there were some wide eyes and questions as well. We understood the necessity of the situation and the reasons why, but you could tell it hadn’t fully registered with the students yet. I heard the phrase “I feel like I’m in a movie” repeated multiple times. One of the students asked me if she could run get her instrument and bring it to her car because she wouldn’t have time before her sports practice after school. I hesitantly reminded her that she would not be having practice after school. The news was so fresh; many of the students hadn’t thought  through all of the consequences yet. Some more questions come flooding in:

What about JSB? (Prom for our private school)

What if our sports take place outside? Can we still practice?

What about senior speeches?

What about graduation?

At this point, I told them, all these questions are unanswerable. This situation is “unprecedented.”

About a half hour later, the school day ended with an entire student body meeting, coaches meetings, and staff meetings to try and answer questions and gain clarity about what was to come. School administrators did the best job they could to share comforting, yet realistic words about information that they had only received about an hour ago, themselves. Again, the situation was unprecedented. We were all doing the best we could.

Then, I headed to my classroom, where our softball team was waiting for an update. We had only practiced for a few weeks together so far, and had most of our girls gone for state basketball the previous week, but you could already tell this was going to be a fun year. With a lively group of seniors and a lot of coachable young women, we were all looking forward to the year ahead. We would have passed our uniforms today at practice, taken pictures on Monday, had our first game Wednesday, but instead we were now sitting in a classroom while Coach Brooke explained that practices were being postponed and that no games would happen while the school was shut down (until April 24 at the least).

This was the moment I had been dreading since I found out about the school shut downs. Since I had heard the news, it was the seniors that my brain and heart first went to.

Brooke started tearing up as she was explaining the situation. Trying to stay positive, she called it a fluid situation that could change, but we all knew this season was going to be different as our eyes starting getting red as well. We all had expectations. We all had goals. Those expectations and goals had shifted and were now being “postponed.”

As someone who loved high school sports and poured everything into softball in her senior season, my heart ached for these girls and for their fellow seniors in other sports, but I didn’t feel like I had the words to make anyone feel better or create any comfort. It was a decision out of our hands, but it was no secret it was affecting all of us.

So, as I took the weekend to really think about what this means for so many seniors that this shut down is affecting, I tried to have empathy and think about how I would have been feeling. With all of these thoughts, I was able to formulate some words that I hope will help (even a little bit) during this unknown time.

So… this message is for you seniors. Not just my three beloved softball girls, but for any seniors that feel like they’re getting cheated out of one of the times they’ve waited for for so long in their lives. Whether it’s your senior spring sports season in high school, your college graduation, your senior prom, or the last chance you had to hang out with the students in your grade… this little message is for you, because YOU have been on my mind tirelessly throughout these last few days. Here are a few of my initial thoughts…

You are strong.

If high school students are one thing, they are tenacious. You will make it through this. You might need to change your outlook, your goals, and your expectations multiple times throughout the next few weeks, but you are strong enough to do that. For many of you, this isn’t the worst thing that you’ve gone through by far, but it’s still hard when something that brings you joy gets taken away. We get that. Continue being the relentless, steadfast humans that I have seen every day I have known you. On days that you don’t feel this strength, rely on God and others who love you to be there for you and remind you how strong you really are.

“For I know the plans I have for you” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Allow yourself to express emotions.

In the next few weeks, you will find yourself feeling the weight of the loss of those expectations and your ideal season. You might catch yourself feeling bummed and then feel bad about it because “it could be worse.” Yes, that means you have empathy and sympathy which are great emotions, but don’t minimize your feelings; they are valid. Allow yourself to be bummed. Allow yourself to be sad. Allow yourself to be frustrated or mad. Acting like nothing is wrong won’t help you or anyone else. Be fair to yourself when it comes to your feelings. Go through whatever “grief” you need to when it comes to these changes, and allow yourself to have emotions. Just because you’re young or you’re healthy doesn’t mean you need to be happy all the time.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart because I have overcome the world. – John 16:33

You are still the athlete you were before this.

The lack of a season doesn’t mean you aren’t an athlete. You don’t need a season to prove that. Sports teach you community, sacrifice, determination, hard work, brotherhood/sisterhood, and passion (just to name a few). You still have all of these characteristics. In the coming weeks, you will still need to use all of these traits. Now, more than ever, we need optimistic, community-minded, sacrificial, and passionate people. Instead of getting over the fear of playing in front of people or getting hit by a ball, you may need to get over the fear of this virus or the fear of the unknown. Instead of helping a teammate up or sharing positive words on the field, you may need to stay optimistic for your family, friends, and neighbors in the coming months. Sports teach you how to deal with different “curveballs” that life throws at you, and the next few months are a perfect example of that. Be the person that sports has helped you become, even though you aren’t getting the chance to be that person in games or competitions in the next few months.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:17 

Don’t waste this time or any moment.

As you sit at home for the foreseeable future, if you’re anything like me, you will look at the time when it hits 3:30 or you will notice the sunshine outside, and it will make you think “what if.” You’ll realize that you would have been outside warming up at this time if things were different. You would be fielding grounders. You would be playing catch. You would be laughing with your teammates and coaches. You would be getting psyched before your first game. It will be hard not to think that way, and it will be hard not to feel frustrated or sad. Do your best to allow yourself to feel that way, but then to turn the table, and try not to waste any moment. Ask yourself how you’re supposed to be growing from this. What are you supposed to be learning from this? Maybe it will help you focus on what really matters because you’re minimizing distractions. Maybe it will help you be a better sibling, son, daughter, parent, friend, etc. Maybe trying to find the bright side of this situation right now is HARD. Maybe you won’t know why God allowed this to happen until 5, 10, or 20 years later, and you’ll realize that God was preparing you for something more than you could even fathom. I hope and pray that even though this is causing hurt and sadness, it will help you become better friends, mothers, fathers, and people in the long run.

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with My word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. – Isaiah 55:9-11

Finally, we have no idea what the future holds, BUT if you do get the chance to play, give it your all. Maybe that chance to play doesn’t end up being in your high school jersey. Maybe it does. Maybe it’s your freshman year of college or an intramural team or a summer slowpitch team. Whenever it is that you get the chance to play, use this situation to remind yourself how much you love the game. Never take one second for granted. Love the game passionately. Love your teammates fiercely. Love yourself unapologetically.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. – Matthew 6:34

As I said before, I know these are anxious times for everyone, so whether you are a high school athlete, a senior who is sad about missing this time in general, a coach who doesn’t get to form new bonds throughout this year, a parent who would do anything to watch their son or daughter play the game they love for the last time, a teacher who misses having 100+ students they get to hang out with, or really anyone whose plans/hopes/goals were changed dramatically in the wake of this craziness, I hope you can find peace that passes understanding, and I hope you can find some sort of comfort in the unknown that is surrounding us.

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” – John 14:27 

Written by High School Teacher Taylor Vander Yacht, posted with permission from her blog, 

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