This week, I wanted to wait until the very last moment to write about what I’ve been thinking because I knew that yesterday was going to be a milestone moment for me. You see, Saturday, May 2, was supposed to be my youngest son’s graduation day from the University of Michigan. It’s where he spent the last four years of his life—perhaps the happiest four years of his life.
Like every other graduation, his was canceled five weeks ago. So, I got together with some other parents and we staged a virtual graduation celebration for the boys that were left in his house and in his community.
We wanted the boys to have something special to mark this momentous moment in their lives. I guess as parents, we wanted that, too. I know I did. So, we gathered on Saturday via Zoom. We played the boys favorite songs, like Billy Joel’s “Saigon Nights,” and, of course, we played “Pomp and Circumstance” and the Michigan fight song. Some families made lawn signs. We made pretend diplomas. We got some cheap caps and gowns for pictures. We also got some food to-go from the legendary Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor and sent it to the boys’ house, where they have been holed up for the last five weeks finishing classes.
We all knew our “celebration” wasn’t exactly what they had been looking forward to for the last four years, but it was at least something to commemorate what was to have been their big day. It was something for us as well.
Since COVID-19 arrived, like many of you, I’ve become really good friends with Zoom. I’ve been to a Zoom funeral. A Zoom wake. Several Zoom prayer gatherings. Zoom cocktail parties. A few Zoom birthday parties. And, from Friday night to Saturday night, I was part of a 24-hour global streaming event (on Zoom and every other streaming platform known to humankind) called “The Call to Unite,” which focused on answering the call to unite the world and bring direct relief—both spiritual relief and financial relief—to the millions of people who suddenly find themselves on the brink in every way, shape, and form.
I wanted to wait until Saturday to write my essay, so I had time to experience these two huge milestone events. I wanted to feel what it was like on Friday to be among so many great spiritual leaders, thought leaders, and everyday human beings around the globe working to unite our world and perhaps, just as importantly, working to unite their own hearts, minds, and spirits. It felt amazing to be a small part of this endeavor.
It was an extraordinary undertaking spearheaded by my brother Timothy and so many other people whose mission is to unite us. So many people shared their talents and their journeys. So many pitched in, and millions of dollars were raised. So many shared their hard-earned wisdom from the frontlines of life. It was humbling, inspiring, motivating and, yes, life-changing.
Speaking of life-changing, it’s certainly life-changing to have your youngest child graduate from college. It is an end of an era for sure, for him and for me. Four kids all done with school. Wow. I can remember each one’s first day at kindergarten. I remember it like it was yesterday. The school plays. The sporting events. The proms. All their friends. And, yes, there were a few trips to the principal’s office. But it was all an amazing, fun, remarkable, memory-making, and incredibly moving experience. Actually, it's been an honor. And just like that, we are done. Wow.
I know Christopher’s transition back home will not be easy. He’s leaving behind so many people who have become his new brothers and sisters. He’s leaving behind a home away from home. He’s going out into the job market at a time that will be anything but easy.
I know these days nothing feels easy for anyone. I have friends who have lost businesses. I have friends who have been sick. I have friends who were about to launch new businesses, only to have everything put on hold. I have friends who have filed for unemployment. Nothing is easy right now.
This weekend, I asked myself, “If there were a graduation speaker, what would I want my son and his classmates and all the other young people going out into the world to know at this moment in time?”
The truth is, I would want them to know that our world desperately needs them. I would want them to know that so much is still possible. I would want them to know that dreams can still be achieved, that opportunities can still be had, and that each of them will have a hand in creating what this new world of ours will look like. We can all go out and do our part in creating a more unified world, but as my brother Timothy’s event said, “First, we must unite ourselves. We must develop the skills of a uniter.”
Skills like compassion, empathy, understanding, and recognition of the other... these are now the “hard skills” that each of us will need in a world that’s going to be hard. They are also the very skills that change lives one heart and one mind at a time. These are the skills I believe these young people have to give.
So yes, I feel a sense of sadness for my son and the class of 2020. And yes, I sobbed at the Zoom graduation. I sobbed a lot and for so many reasons, but I remind myself that great ideas and great rebirths come out of moments like this. Great companies are born out of moments like this. Families are strengthened from moments like this. And yes, strong individuals are made as well. I believe this with my whole heart and soul.
So, to the class of 2020, I know it didn’t go like you thought or wanted. I’m so sorry about that. I really am. But I want you to know that there is no other class like you. You are now unique in our world’s story, as is what awaits you. Our world is waiting to be shaped by your compassion, creativity, care, ingenuity, and character. Right now, we need you more than ever. You will change us all for the better, and we are ready to be changed by you.
Congratulations, Christopher. I love you and all your friends, and I wish everyone going forward all the best. God bless you all.