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A Multi-Generation Perspective On Losing A Graduation Ceremony

Staying positive during a pandemic is not easy—especially when none of us have experienced such circumstances before. How we face—and help others to face—unexpected conditions provide a window into who we are now and who we are becoming. Could there be an opportunity in the circumstances we are faced with right now?

Our team spends a lot of time discussing character in everyday life circumstances—both in the workplace and at home. With the rise of COVID-19, we are not only seeing many changes within the business world—but also in each of our families. 

This is why for our next three blog posts, I want to take the time to lean into my own family and share what we are learning together. In discussions with my kids, we are recognizing the fact that exercising character looks different in every generation. 

My son, Jake, is 23 years old. He just began his career after graduating college last May. But, while he is grateful he had the opportunity to finish his final semester on campus—he is struggling with the fact his friends won’t have the same experience as they finish their last semester online. 

Jake’s close friend Mac is just one of his friends who he knows is having a hard time. Mac does not get to have a formal, public college graduation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a parent, I know this would bother me if it was either of my kids. I know that for families, a college graduation is a culmination of years of hard work, resilience and tenacity.

For Mac, graduation was going to be an extremely special occasion. He is a first generation college graduate. The public ceremony was going to be an opportunity for him to celebrate his success with his entire family. Though Mac will still be sent a diploma in the mail, the “coming-of-age” memorable moment of walking across a stage is no longer an option for him.

I imagine it would be extremely hard to stay positive when it feels like a life defining moment has been ripped away. I also wonder if it would be difficult for friends and family around Mac— or any other college or high school graduate—to understand what these seniors might be feeling. I wonder if these students have a support system which will let them work through the disappointment. Many times, the expectation is for someone to simply “bounce back” or put on a “brave face.” 

But, what if Leading with Character gave us an opportunity to lean into those who are facing immense disappointment and restore hope and Positivity in creative ways?

This leads me to ask, “How can families lead with Positivity inside the circumstances of a pandemic?”

To do so, let me allow Jake to share a bit of his perspective: 

Jake’s Thoughts:

For most of my friends, college graduation is one of the biggest moments of their lives. It marks the end of life as a student and the entry into the world of “young professionals.” I know for me; it was a transition unlike any I had ever made before. 

Graduation is a moment to reflect on the accomplishments behind us, and more importantly—to look ahead. Plus, there is something special about doing it when we are surrounded by those who mean the most to us. We leave behind years of schooling along with a time in life in which we lived at home or with friends. Ahead of us are our careers, creating a family, venturing into new places and making new friends. It is a daunting journey—yet we look forward to it. But now, with a pandemic here, the transition feels as if it is at a standstill.

It can feel as if the one moment of triumph, which was guaranteed to come after the investment and hard work of many years, is gone. In many ways, it is anticlimactic and unfulfilling. 

In this moment, and under these circumstances, Positivity is understandably hard to come by. After all, it doesn’t seem like anything is going the way it was supposed to, even though it is of no fault of our own. In those moments, we need someone to lean on.

Here are some ideas I realize my friends and I can do as we navigate this new terrain: 

  • Ask for insight. It is important to talk out how we are feeling. I would encourage you to find someone to have a positive conversation with. Who do you trust to lift your spirits and encourage you? Give them a call and share how you are feeling. Ask for their insight. 

  • Connect with those experiencing a similar loss. Who could you bring Positivity to? How can you encourage them? What if connecting with others to not only share disappointment, but to brainstorm on ways to still celebrate milestones could spark a sense of ownership and hope in the midst of loss?

These are just a few of my thoughts, and yet—in talking with my dad—he has a few of his own suggestions. I will let him give a bit of his own perspective: 

A Dad’s Perspective

I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have your graduation taken away from you at age 22. I know I would be disappointed. As a parent, not being able to celebrate my own children during such a momentous occasion would be difficult for me personally, as well as watching them feel the loss. I can’t begin to imagine how Mac and his family are feeling. 

I know it could be easy for me—and many people my age—to compare our own life circumstances to those of our children. It might be tempting to tell them to “suck it up,” since our own life experience has taught us that missing moments of celebration will not be the worst thing they will go through. We could end up telling them, “Life will disappoint you, so what are you going to do now? What’s your plan? How are you going to rise above this challenge and not let it define you?”

But, that is not what they need. 

During someone’s lowest moments, Positivity is not about finding a trite comment to snap them out of their disappointment. It looks like listening and coming alongside someone, not just telling someone to toughen up.  

Our role—as Leaders of Character—is to listen and find ways to exercise Positivity in every circumstance. Yet, we also need to be aware that Positivity may initially be hard for them to discover.

What they will glean from the disappointment may not be instantly evident. Yet, our presence in their lives will be. We need to set the tone for many family conversations with our own attitude and be a positive example by listening more and talking less. 

Ask questions without making statements. Allow their disappointment to surface. Don’t gloss over it. Then, we can find ways to support each other. Families can lean into each other, while allowing each other to be human and honest about how we feel in these uncontrollable circumstances. Once that disappointment surfaces, and they feel heard and supported, they are more ready for our counsel.

As Jake and I talked together about Mac and his family—and thought about many other families who are facing similar circumstances, we asked ourselves this question: 

“How can we exercise Positivity in the middle of disappointment?” 

As a parent, I recognized that we can: 

  • Listen. As we put ourselves in their shoes, rather than compare their situation with our own or someone we know, we open the door to share Positivity in the coming weeks. Ask yourself, “What is preventing you from understanding the other person’s perspective?” Do we need to speak less and listen more? 

  • Find a way to celebrate.  The accomplishments of the graduate are there, even if the planned ceremony is cancelled.  How will you help mark this milestone in a memorable way? A few examples we have seen are to: 

  1. Host a drive-by graduation. Well-wishers can decorate cars and posters, and drive past homes cheering the graduate from rolled down windows. 

  2. Create a “Wisdom Zoom.” Ask participants to not only share well wishes, but coordinate a request for a word of wisdom to be shared by each participant. Record these moments for the graduate to hold onto. 

  3. Ask for “Quarantine Graduation” videos from friends and family. Have a quarantine graduation from your living room and play the videos for your senior from friends far and wide who may not have even been able to make the live ceremony that had been planned. You could even invite a “commencement speaker” to send in a video. It takes work on a family's end to do the advance work to coordinate this—but it brings the Positivity and recognition our graduates still hope for. 

This pandemic has brought a lot of changes to the lives of a lot of people we love. Discussing these topics with Jake meant a lot to me. I hope you and your family are spending time talking to and listening to each other. We all have an opportunity to be that example of Positivity the other person needs right now.

Instead of a Dig Deep Question today, I turn it over to you. I would love to hear what creative ways you have found to celebrate others. We welcome you to share it with our team!  We look forward to hearing from you!

To share your story with us go to and send us a message on our contact page.

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