Dear graduates:

You did it! You made it through! The homework, the group projects, the reading, the writing — oh, the writing!

Whether you are graduating from high school, with a certification, an undergrad degree or a graduate degree, you’ve accomplished something monumental. Congrats!

You’ve created friendships. You’ve learned life lessons along with the academic ones. You’ve burned the midnight oil, written and given reports, watched endless PowerPoint presentations and maybe even cried a bit over your classes.

All the while, life continued. Maybe you fell in love, got married, had a baby and held down a job while getting your education. Maybe you or someone you love dealt with a health crisis, a faith crisis, a financial crisis or an emotional crisis.

You have likely known both grief and joy while on this journey of yours. You may have learned that you gave too much weight to things that didn’t really matter and not nearly enough to things that did. You may have thought you had the future figured out, but then along came a virus and now, nothing is certain.

We know you are not finishing school in the way you envisioned. No yearbook signings, no cap-and-gown ceremonies, no families competing for who can make the most noise in a crowded arena, no all-night grad parties. You probably hoped to finish this part of your academic journey with a bang and instead, got a whimper.

And you know what? It’s OK that it stinks. But know this: No pandemic can rob you of your very real achievement of reaching the finish line. You did it!

And you know what else? I know that you are resilient. I know you are creative and innovative. I know that you will figure life out and probably sooner than some of us who’ve been around a few decades longer. You have the ability to toggle between life online and IRL.

Whether you are graduating from high school or college, I know you are learning to see gaps in how the world “should” be and how it really is — and you’re having none of it. You are calling out injustice and bias and abuse when you encounter it, in unprecedented ways. I applaud you for that.

I am confident that some of you will be responsible for life-changing innovations that none of us can even imagine right now. Maybe it will be some new technology, or a new approach to health care or education or data science. Maybe it’s as unimaginable to most of us now as the iPhone was when the first one was released in 2007.

Now, perhaps more than ever, resilience and flexibility are core life skills. And I know you have them. Can’t get together in person? There’s always Zoom, TikTok, Snapchat and parking lots, socially distant proms, online sing-alongs and funny memes to make and share.

We might have been asked to “physically distance” for a while, but I know you graduates have figured out ways to stay socially connected. You will get through this strange time and then, oh, the stories you’ll have to tell your grandkids!

DeLaina Tonks, Ph.D., and director of Mountain Heights Academy, recently shared her advice for grads: “Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, ‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and make your own trail. The Class of 2020 has a singular opportunity to blaze new paths into unknown territories, leaving a groundbreaking legacy for others to follow. Creating new trails engenders a call to action to leave the world better than you found it and to be a light for others to follow. We need you! Share your ideas, raise your voices, and blaze new trails as you step into the next part of your journey.”

Celebrate your great accomplishment and then get to trail-blazing.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.