Like many of you, I entered 2020 with great expectations. After all, this is no ordinary year. It’s 2020: The Year of Perfect Vision. A year of spiritual growth. A year of culminating achievements. A year of celebration. A year of new beginnings.
But then Covid-19. And just like that, all plans came to a screeching halt.
Lots of big days have been cancelled, postponed, or altered. Weddings. Graduations. Family reunions. Hospital births (yes, even these look different because of coronavirus). Virtual meetings and socially-distanced gatherings try to fill the void and allow family and friends to celebrate together. But no matter what alternative festivities arise, there’s one group of celebrants who feels the loss of their special day more than others: Graduates.
High school. College. Graduate and post-graduate. Seniors and scholars at all levels worked for years to accomplish something worth celebrating. For some, their graduation represents a “first” achievement for someone in their family. For all, graduation signifies a valuable “right of passage” as one arduous-yet-worthy season ends, and a new season of great anticipation begins.
Walking across the stage affirms the culmination of incredible dedication. The official act of receiving a diploma shouts to the world, “You did it!” But with no stage, no diploma in hand, and no procession to the Pomp and Circumstance March, it’s hard to feel the same sense of accomplishment and closure. It’s like watching a grand fireworks display that ends without the customary finale. You’re left wondering, “Is that it?”
How do I know? I’m a 2020 graduate. This is the year of my doctoral graduation.
A wise man once said that the gap between expectation and reality equals disappointment. Years of hard work and the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears led up to what was supposed to be an unforgettable moment in time when I would receive my doctoral hood and descend the stairs as Dr. Dahl. So when plans changed, I had a choice to make. I could lament the new reality, or I could embrace an intimate opportunity. I chose to lay down my expectations and, with a thankful heart, sing a song of praise.
Praise changed my perspective of graduation day, and blessings flowed through my stay-at-home ceremony. Instead of the seminary president bestowing my doctoral hood over my shoulders as others looked on, my beloved husband lovingly “hooded” me in our backyard in a moment I will never forget. And instead of me walking across a stage or in a procession, I later walked a quiet, wooded trail with Jesus. Over and over my excitement overflowed, “We did it!” Even now I tear up thinking about my special day and the tremendous affirmation of accomplishment from the two most important people in my life.
Did my graduation look and feel different? Absolutely. Did I miss having my family and friends by my side? Of course. Was I robbed of my right of passage? Not at all. My eyes remain fixed on Jesus, and I’m still joyfully running my race with Him.
So to all my graduating friends and any graduates out there who may feel a sense of letdown, I want to affirm: WELL DONE! Congratulations on your incredible achievement! What you completed this spring is worthy of celebration, even if your celebration includes only an intimate few. I pray that 2020 remains a year of blessings and new beginnings for each one of you!
“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).