The Class of 2020, like the rest of the world, has yet to experience the full effects of Covid-19. But one thing is certain: the line between youthfulness and adulthood has blurred. It isn’t just that the Class of 2020 has missed out on all the traditional rites of passage associated with graduating college, it’s that the world feels entirely different.
I have twins in the Class of 2020, albeit high school seniors who are college-bound. My daughter Rebecca is headed to Muhlenberg College and my son Casey is off to the University of Redlands. As challenging a time as this has been for our family, we take comfort in knowing that Rebecca and Casey will still have a beginning and end to their college experience. The start dates are unclear. Which is to say that we have no idea whether the twins will be able to physically attend school this fall, but at some point they will, at least before they’re due to graduate college in 2024.
My heart breaks, however, for this year’s college graduates because in a moment’s notice they moved from all the structure, freedom, and promise that a college experience brings toward a hazy future rife with uncertainty.
Everywhere I turn, I hear college grads voicing equal parts expectation and angst. Normal under normal circumstances, except these aren’t typical times. The Class of 2020 rushed to leave communal, campus life behind when the virus became a public health threat yet easing into the post-graduate landscape promises to be a much slower and frustrating transition. Coveted jobs and travel opportunities have been upended for many grads, while entire industries are now in peril and/or have to be reimagined. Will businesses still require on-site employment, or can expenses be cut, and productivity increased by continued virtual work? So many questions.
When all the rules have changed, how are today’s college grads expected to move into this next phase of their lives with confidence and optimism?
Few scholars wrote more prolifically about transitions than the late William Bridges. He wrote ten books on this subject, including his seminal work, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, to help individuals move through confusing times like this one. Bridges identified three, sequential stages to every transition: an ending, a neutral zone, and a new beginning.
Every transition involves loss and gain…even the good ones like graduations and weddings and babies. I’ve spent much of the past decade writing and reflecting and teaching others how to move through all kinds of transitions (sweet as well as hard), and to do so by encouraging an inside-out approach. We have to look within ourselves in order to successfully move through transitions, and become resilient. There is nothing external about change but change itself; adapting to change in a proactive, purposeful way is internal work. This work begins in William Bridges’ neutral zone, and in my own paradigm of gray—the flexible, nuanced space between the concrete worlds of black and white. Let’s face it: the more experiences we accrue in life, the more we recognize that there is so much gray! Gray is the place where things are neither heavenly nor horrible, just somewhere in-between. It’s only in this mid-place of gray where creativity, curiosity, and boldness lie, and ultimately where we summon the resilience to integrate the lessons and losses that all transitions bring.
The gift I’d like to give today’s college graduates is the gift of helping them embrace the transition into adulthood. In a world still on shaky ground from the first global pandemic in more than a century, answering the call about what now and what next matters more than ever.
Here are some prompts to help the college graduates in your life embrace the transition into adulthood.
- What do you value?
- Who and what emboldens you to take action?
- What do you want and what’s getting in your way?
- What are your strengths? What strengths will you draw upon in the coming years?
I teach resilience to individuals and businesses worldwide, and often marry this with writing because I know firsthand how writing helps us make meaning of our experiences and gain clarity. There’s a trove of research that points to the physical and psychological benefits of expressive writing. That said, these prompts can invite both written and spoken expression.
What matters most is to create the time and space to have the conversation with college graduates, on or off the page. Let’s honor their process.