Through The Eyes of Our Children

When I first heard Governor Murphy's announcement on May 4 that all New Jersey schools would be closed for the remainder of the year my initial reaction was one of disbelief. Then sadness. Then anger. Then back to sadness.

While there is understandably much discussion about the importance of reopening and reviving the economy we can' t ignore the importance of reviving and saving the emotional and mental health of our high school seniors.  As adults, we can see the horizon. As adults, we know we will overcome this public health crisis and will come out on the other side.  But what of our children? Are they able to see the same horizon as we?

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As 18-year-olds, the horizon they see is age-related limited. And so we need to constantly remind ourselves how important it is to see this crisis through their eyes. And for my three children, I see the same disbelief and anger and sadness that I have felt and continue to feel. 

It's all so palpable. Seeing this crisis through the eyes of our children gives us the opportunity to get a glimpse and feel their pain. I have much respect and admiration for my children as they attempt day in and day out to simply hold on and find ways to deal with this new reality. For my college-aged son, being told to stay home after spring break was disheartening. Distance learning was now to substitute for the irreplaceable in-person classroom interaction. He misses his friends and campus life. He is fortunate, but some of his friends were not and have lost summer jobs and internships. For those graduating student’s start-up careers are now questionable. 

And for our high school seniors? How much longer can they sustain this? As adults when we look into their eyes what do we see?  Last minute college tours? Canceled. On campus student acceptance days? Canceled. High school decision day? Canceled. Fun senior spring activities? Canceled.  Prom? Canceled. Beach weekend? Hanging in the balance. 

Graduation? An event seniors have been patiently waiting for 4 years. Make that 12 years. High school graduation: the culmination of years of hard work, determination, drive. Potentially lost? To be replaced by a virtual ceremony? Diplomas mailed? Yearbooks mailed without the ritual thoughtful comments from friends, classmates or teachers? Caps and gowns picked up with instructions to take a picture and send it in for a compilation of all the graduates? Discussions of small graduating ceremonies with 10 students at a time? Really? That's the plan? 

I'm sorry. Our seniors have lost too much. I feel there is absolutely no reason why an in-person graduation ceremony with all the students present cannot take place with a live stream to families and friends. With proper precautions (masks, social distancing) our graduating seniors should and must be given this gift. Rain or shine. For our seniors the rest of their lives is a long time and as adults we know during that time there will be many individual high points. But that is really not the point. The real point is this is their time now and in the midst of this public health crisis we need to take care of our children because there is an emotional component to this viral outbreak.  

As adults, we have an obligation to show them there is a horizon. It's our responsibility to help restore their sense of self-worth and to revitalize their emotional and mental well-being as they move on to the next chapter of their lives. Too much has already been stripped away from our seniors. We cannot control what the coronavirus has already taken away. But we should all stand up to the Governor and insist that what they deserve and are entitled to should and must be given to them.

Mark Wolman
Scotch Plains, NJ