Dr. Michael Gill

(Editor’s note: With commencement ceremonies being celebrated in a virtual world, Dr. Michael Gill, superintendent of Hanover County Public Schools, shared with us his message for members of the Class of 2020.)

Every year, keynote speakers across the country inevitably provide encouragement to graduates, but they also caution them about the rapidly changing nature of the modern world in which we live, and in which you will be charged with navigating.

And … it’s true. The world is an amazing place, but the pace can also be incredibly demanding. COVID-19 has challenged us to rethink every aspect of our daily lives, and the events that have unfolded in our community and around the nation have understandably stirred a wide range of emotions and questions within us all as we struggle to comprehend the deep-rooted and complex issues that we face, such as eliminating racism and hatred. Arguably, the future may seem to be the most uncertain it has been for a graduating class in several decades.

However, you are not just any graduating class. You are the Class of 2020! You have the ability to turn uncertainty into meaningful action. Now, I can honestly say that I have had admiration and hope for every group of seniors that I have had the privilege of serving during my tenure. I have thought that each class’s prospects for making positive contributions to the world were exceedingly strong. Still, there is something truly special about your class.

You began kindergarten the same year that the iPhone was invented. You came of age during the rise of social media, witnessing its power to bring people together when used appropriately. You have already lived through recessions and bull markets, war and peace, and triumphs and struggles.

Those experiences and so many more led you to this, your senior year -- a year you looked forward to with great anticipation. Many happy memories have already been created at various sporting events and performances, homecoming, goofing off at lunch or in the hallways, and completing those class projects that you thought would never get done. All of this occurred of course before the phrase “social distancing” was even part of our vocabulary. Then came March. The abrupt ending to your senior year was something that, frankly speaking, none of us saw coming. While incredible efforts were made by so many to restore some semblance of normalcy, there are no words that will bring back proms, award ceremonies, and last hugs.

Despite these disappointments, you didn’t just adapt to the situation laid in front of you. Rather, you thrived and you were resilient! With the help of your incredible teachers, administrators, school counselors, support staff, your parents, and others, Zoom, Schoology, email, phone calls, and packet pick-ups became your new classroom. You found remarkable ways to connect with friends and offer encouragement when it was needed. Many of you found ways to give back to and support those hurting more than you. You found that pushing the pause button on many of the daily activities that usually rule our lives is not such a bad thing. You discovered that you do, in fact, need to slow down for a minute to smell the proverbial roses and be more reflective. Or perhaps, more aptly, pause to binge watch the new Netflix series.

You are the Class of 2020. Of course you thrived, and you will continue to do so. You are unlike any class before you, and you will share that bond for the rest of your lives. The leadership guru Zig Ziglar once wrote, “You were designed for accomplishment, engineered for success, and endowed with the seeds of greatness.” I cannot think of another group who this quote more perfectly represents.

Class of 2020, you have already accomplished great things. You have inspired all of us along the way, and I know that because of your preparation, both through school and through the life events you have experienced, that you are uniquely equipped to be the leaders and the much-needed voices of your generation. Congratulations to you all! You most certainly deserve it.

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