This is normally a time of cherished rituals. Proms. Senior picnics. Graduation ceremonies. A time to mark the end of one chapter in life and the beginning of a new experience.
Class of 2020, I am sorry that you will not experience many of those rituals, at least in the same way.
While the loss of more than 100,000 of our fellow citizens is rightfully our focus, it is also appropriate to reflect on the smaller losses – the loss of time with friends and the experiences that you had long looked forward to. While I know how disappointing some of these losses may be, I hope that you will also reflect on what you may have gained from this experience: resiliency, a greater confidence in your ability to adapt, and a new perspective on what you value most.
Any graduation – whether from high school or college – begs the question of what comes next. This year it is not only you, our graduates, who acutely feel that uncertainty. We all want to know what the next days, let alone years, will bring.
Getting through this pandemic and building a better future for all Americans rests on our ability to be there for one another, to be resilient, and to work together to make positive changes. Whenever I have the privilege of giving a commencement address, I touch on the importance of engaging in your community, and we will need your engagement, Class of 2020, more than ever.
I have been inspired by the efforts of many people in New Hampshire to help one another during this pandemic. Collective actions, like staying home, minimizing interactions with others, and missing important events – including for many of you, commencement ceremonies – have helped save lives.
Additionally, Granite Staters have rolled up their sleeves and done what they can to make a difference – from making personal protective equipment for people on the front lines, to picking up groceries for higher risk individuals, to organizing automobile parades and other socially-distanced events to help pick up the spirits of our most vulnerable.
These efforts are helping our country move forward, but there is no doubt that this crisis has laid bare deeper issues in our society that need to be addressed. We have seen how inequality in our society can exacerbate the challenges people already face in receiving life-saving health care. We have witnessed how even one missed paycheck can turn a family’s life upside down. And we have seen real challenges for working families’ ability to access everything from broadband to education and child care.
Your talent, leadership, and commitment are needed, particularly now as our country navigates this new reality that we are living in.
Your country needs you to engage on issues that you are passionate about and persevere. And though it may be difficult right now, you have already shown a great capacity to do so.
In the last few months, you have shown that you can adapt. When schools closed and classes moved online, you did what you needed to do to make it to graduation.
Now, you are applying for a job in a market that is deeply uncertain. Or, you are planning for your first semester at college, without being sure, exactly, what it will actually look like.
By taking these steps forward, you are showing strength and promise – and critically, you are showing hope for our shared future. No matter what step comes next, please know that your hard work and dedication have already produced results and they will continue to.
Also, remember that you have a strong support system behind you. From family and friends, to teachers, professors, mentors, and so many others – no one reaches this milestone alone. You should take comfort and gratitude in knowing that you have many people in your corner and that you can lean on them now and in the years to come.
There is a long road ahead for all of us, but our country has prevailed through challenging times before, and we will do so again. One day, I hope that you look back at the way you grappled with these unprecedented times and remember your resilience.
Congratulations again, Class of 2020. You have accomplished a great deal already, and you have laid a strong foundation for your future success.
U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan was elected to the Senate in the 2016 election. She was the 81st Governor of New Hampshire, from 2013 to 2017.