I had the honor of speaking at my class’s graduation reception but forgot to say one big thing.
As you graduate and head out into the next chapter of your life, remember to wear the Class of 2020 like a badge of honor.
I am proud of what we accomplished and even prouder to go through these tough times with you. Looking back, I think about how we started this story together, but apart. Each one of us packed up our things and left the familiar behind to venture into the unknown. But when we finally came together, we found all the familiar things that made us feel at home. From the class dad to the class clown to the one “most likely to quietly take over the world,” we all struggled at first but quickly banded together. We leaned on each other and found friendship. Eventually, we found the best way to prep for final exams and even learned a thing or two. Perhaps, most important of all, we settled the furious debate over who’s the best at Super Smash Brothers.
When March rolled around and turned our last quarter upside down, we suddenly found ourselves back at home — in some cases, right where we started. Instead of feeling good about being close to the end of our studies, we ran into a mountain of worries as jobs and internships evaporated. After the school’s doors shuttered, I was happy to Zoom back into class and work with you again, but even then, things were different. It was hard to concentrate with the developing news in each passing day. For some, a bad situation got even worse as friends and loved ones fell ill with the virus.
The daily mental calculus about what to do with school, what to do after school, and how to care for family was almost unbearable. But eventually, just like we did back in the day, we stuck together. We checked in to take care of each other and managed countless bleeding-eye hours of video calls and group work. Our partners, families, and friends all stepped up to support us in so many ways – it’s hard to keep track of each act of kindness and support, but we are thankful for all of them. It took a village, but it seems as if we’ve made it.
For a time, I was worried about graduating this year. Possibly, I was more concerned about telling others that I was graduating. Why? Hard to say precisely. It may have been the thought of feeling un-hirable or that my degree might be worth less than if I had graduated in another year. It may sound silly, but with the way that things have gone in the job market so far, it’s not hard to think about these things.
However, I eventually realized that in addition to having each other, we have every other graduate in the class of 2020 alongside us as we step into a time of unprecedented adversity. If there is a truth to having strength in numbers, then as long as we stick together and continue to support each other, we will be okay.
I am a proud member and graduate of The Class of 2020.
-Justin Chae (MSL ’20)
[Original publication via Medium.com.]