June 22

The change we need, and the change that’s happening.

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It’s been a crazy, busy June, what with having to travel to Alberta after a death in the family and then make the two-day drive home in time for my son’s high school graduation. No, I did not fly. Flying is an option, but with the sky-high airfare and the risk of being jammed in a plane during a pandemic, it wasn’t even a consideration on my part.

I have to give kudos to the high school administration, who found a way to give my son and the other grade twelves their graduation, considering all the roadblocks that have been tossed their way by the powers that be. A graduation is a formal affair, a celebration, but my son’s was a small event, with the class split up into groups—and I mean tiny groups—based on names. Every student who finishes high school and gets that diploma should have a huge end-of-year celebration, but the fact was that these kids couldn’t even have their close friends in their groups, so many of them didn’t know each other. What a lonely experience that was. No, their friends weren’t going to be up there with them.

Chairs up on the stage were farther than six feet apart, and family was limited to only two per student, with chairs in the audience closer to twelve feet apart. Family members even in the same households couldn’t sit together, which really didn’t make any sense, but nonetheless, the school administration had to follow rules set by the government in order to give our kids this small acknowledgement, and those rules are a subject for another blog. The diplomas were placed on a table, and the students had to walk over to that table to pick them up. There were no speeches, no awards handed out, no students singing, playing music, or doing anything that goes along with making a graduation special. No sitting with your good friend to share that moment that becomes a memory you take with you. No photos with the principal, no handshakes, no roaring applause for each kid.

It was over, from start to finish, including a quick snap of a grad photo, in seventeen minutes. That included leaving the school grounds so the next group could have their turn. Cold, sterile, impersonal—but then, it seems that’s what this pandemic has reduced us to. Many in the community couldn’t help but feel for our kids who were graduating this year, because through no fault of theirs, they really did get screwed. Hold your chin up, kids!

Then there were the girls. You know, they spend nearly all year planning their gowns. Thinking of that was the first time I nearly cried, and if you all know me, you know I don’t cry. There were no dates, no being paraded around the gym, just sitting alone in a fabulous gown. There was no after party, no having all your family there to see you and congratulate you and lift you up and share in your celebration.

You know, I remember listening to the public health official at the beginning of this pandemic, when I still watched the news—which, just a reminder, I do not anymore. One of the things she said was that kids couldn’t have their graduation this year but could plan for a ten-year reunion instead. I was taken aback by that remark, because you can’t replace an event. I think of all the weddings that had to be canceled or scaled down this year to just immediate family, with all kinds of rules in place. Yes, I know everyone is making the best of a bad situation.

I think of the current protests, too. Even boycotting the news, you can’t avoid hearing about something so heinous. Yes, I watched the video, and I’m still sick from what I saw. At the same time, didn’t we all know this was still happening everywhere, even though we don’t see it? It’s happening in different ways in different countries in one form or another. This kind of protest was a long time coming. But just a reminder, too, in order to make the kind of everlasting change that has to happen for the greater good, you have to stand up and add your voice and stay the course, no matter how exhausting it is or how long it takes. Politicians count on people getting back to their lives, getting on with things. They think people will stop creating a ruckus and a fuss, but to make real change happen, to make a difference, you have to hold those in power accountable. Each voice matters. You can’t bury your head in the sand and say it doesn’t affect you or you don’t want to rock the boat and create problems, because I hate to tell you this, but it affects all of us.

What does all of this have to do with a graduation ceremony for kids who are just beginning their lives? Everything. Isn’t it time our kids see real change happen for the better so they don’t live in a society where one race, gender, or class has more rights than another? This is the kind of thing that has existed forever and is deeply embedded in every society, in every system of government. Laws are enforced and created by those we have elected, and don’t forget the career politicians who aren’t elected but remain behind the scenes, pulling the strings, maintaining the status quo. Sure, I’m stepping on some toes here, but being the mother of a disabled child and having every door slammed in my face, I learned from the get-go that I had to fight for his rights in a country where I shouldn’t have to. What does that say about the unheard, about those without a voice, those who have faced their own adversity because of color, race, gender, or religion?

Think about it. Laws were created by politicians, and career politicians, those privileged few who hold power in our society, are the ones who dictate how they want the rules to work in their favor. Old laws that never should have remained on the books are still there, and people remain in positions of power. The only way to make real change happen is to stand up and say, “No more!”

I’ll leave you with a lesson from my uncle, who recently passed away. Through how he lived his life, he taught his kids and grandkids and those who knew him that above all else, one must live with integrity.

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