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Ask & Answer | An open letter to the Class of 2020 from EdNC

Dear Class of 2020,

One of the hardest questions we have received since the start of the coronavirus pandemic is, “What about our seniors? What about our seniors who were born in the time of 9/11 and are graduating in the time of coronavirus?”

On behalf of EducationNC’s team and the executive committee of our board, we’re sharing the following collection of poems, recipes, music, and more with you during this uncertain time.

From Andrew Holton

My favorite poem, which I think of in tough times (Hat tip to Mrs. Whitaker, who taught 8th Grade Language Arts from Carrington Junior High School).

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

From Liz Bell

Though it’s not the traditional graduation/go get em kind of advice, this poem keeps ringing in my head, especially during hard and confusing times.

Love is Not All (Sonnet XXX) by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would

From Taylor Shain

I spent a lot of time as a kid chasing ephemeral future goals and events. There was always summer vacation to look forward to, a basketball tournament, or a graduation or prom night looming. These events continued as a young adult: more graduations, weddings, reunions with old friends. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to embrace the joys of everyday life: a short walk with my family, a peaceful lunch on my porch, or losing myself in a project at work.

This poem from “The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents,” reminds me to find joy in the present moment. I’ve discovered that when you find gratitude everyday, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. 

William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.

From Carol Bono

This comic is an illustration of Rumi’s “The Guest House” from Zen Pencils. I want you to know that it’s okay to feel scared or worried during this time. There’s no shame in feeling negative feelings right now, it just makes us human.

I’d also like to share two songs. The first is Hasta la Raíz by Natalia Lafourcade. It’s a beautiful song that I find myself going to time and time again. In it, she sings about how, no matter where life’s journey takes her, she’ll never forget where she came from. Lately, I’ve interpreted that as, regardless of what we go through, we mustn’t forget who we are and always keep in mind our inner happy place.

For the second song, the wonderful human being that is Jorge Drexler composed this song, Codo Con Codo. Its title means “elbow in elbow” (the lyrics are here) and it’s a reminder that hugs will come back into our lives, we won’t let fear win, but for now, we’ll hug each other’s souls and get through this in any way that we can.

And, here’s a delicious brownie recipe I’ve been working on for months now. If anyone finds baking soothing or just wants some chocolatey goodness, this will get the job done.

Lastly, I want you to know that yes, these are uncertain times. You have every right to feel scared, feel worried. But you must know that you’re not alone. You have your loved ones, family, school, community … and you have us. We will get through this together. If you ever want to reach out, you can. My email is I’d be more than happy to chat, share funny memes, and share cute cat content.

From Molly Osborne

This is from a letter my dad wrote me when I turned 18 and is the best advice I can offer.

“Many times over the next five years you will think about what you should do with the rest of your life. Such decisions will take a lot of thought, and I believe in analyzing them rationally. But I think you should make your final decisions with your gut: Do what feels right. Most important, do what you love. Find those things in life where your talent and your bliss come together, and do those. It doesn’t matter what it is; if it is meaningful to you, if you love it, and if you have talent, you will succeed. More important, you will be happy. Trying to succeed at something you don’t love is like swimming upstream: it takes a great deal of extra effort. Succeeding at something you love is like swimming downstream: it feels easy and right. 

And while you are following your bliss, I hope you don’t get so wrapped up in it that you forget to smell the roses. Always try to take the time to appreciate the glorious world around you. We live in an amazing world — a world of beauty and grace. But it is very easy to get so wrapped up in work that you lose sight of that beauty and grace. That is a tragedy. It’s like walking through a mountain meadow, full of wildflowers, with your eyes closed. 

I also hope that, as you find your bliss, you find a way to make the world a better place. Your generation will face many challenges … I hope you will find a way to be part of the solution to those problems. I believe that the highest calling we have is to help our fellow humans.” 

From Alli Lindenberg

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

From Mary Willson

I have a tattoo of a Lotus flower, as I find them very hopeful and a source of strength in hard times. They bloom through muck and mud – to become beautiful and bright to the world. A few favorite quotes about them (source):

  • “As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world.” — Buddha
  • “There is the mud, and there is the lotus that grows out of the mud. We need the mud in order to make the lotus.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
  • “The lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud.” — Buddhist Proverb

From Rupen Fofaria

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.”

From Analisa Sorrells

This playlist is for my sister, Shelby, who will graduate in May, and to the rest of our seniors. If there is one constant in this world, it is the power of music.

From Nancy Rose

Two images that remind me of hope and resilience. A crocus, one of the first flowers that pushes through the hard, frigid ground to bring new life and the hope of spring. 

and a sunset after the storm.

From Alex Granados

“Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.” –Kurt Vonnegut

From Nation Hahn

From George Saunders’ commencement speech on kindness:

But here’s something I do regret:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” — that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then — they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still. It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

And here are a few recommended books:

From Mebane Rash

To my son, Wells, who was born in December 2001 and will graduate in May, and to all of our seniors, I offer you this article on what the year 2050 has in store for humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

He says, the secret now and in the future is “to know what you are, and what you want from life.” He says, “you will need a lot of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance.”

If that sounds daunting, then check out my brother, Jim Rash, who has the best advice ever in situations like these.

Just start.


EdNC staff reporting relies on staff, interns, and columnists.