Hurt and Hope for the Graduating Class of 2020

Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash

“But we had hoped.”

These four words open many common expressions in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, especially from members of the graduating class of 2020.

“But we had hoped to conclude our classes on campus.”

“But we had hoped to celebrate our accomplishments alongside family and friends.”

“But we had hoped to commence into a flourishing economy filled with meaningful opportunity.”

“But we had hoped to discern possibilities rather than pandemics.”

“But we had hoped to discuss new degrees rather than widespread disease.”

“But we had hoped to delight in what was earned rather than lament what was lost.”

“But we had hoped…”

When soon-to-be graduates expected to gather and celebrate, we are instead isolated and agitated, which tempts us to detach and commiserate. Instead of the hustle and bustle of seasonal and spiritual springtime on and around campus, and rather than customary transitions and traditions, students are now caught in a challenging cycle of uncertainty while stuck in various spaces and places around the country and world. This is not the academic grand finale that any of us, especially not the Class of 2020, had expected or desired. We feel disappointed, cheated and even helpless. We had hoped for something different.

We are not the first to suffer from the ailments associated with unrealized expectations. In the midst of all that was taking place around Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago, a traveler named Cleopas “stood still, looking sad” on the road to Emmaus. As was recorded in the 24th Chapter of Luke’s Gospel, his life had taken a grief-stricken turn for the worse, and his bright future was suddenly filled with frustration and fear. Cleopas had hoped to be led into new frontiers, yet it appeared that such dreams were shattered. He was left to step into an unknown reality that he had not previously imagined. He had hoped for something different.

Cleopas and his travel companion on the road to Emmaus were not alone in their shock, loss, anger and fear. Like others who had expected Jesus to be with them “mighty in word and deed” for many years to come, all seemed to be lost when their anointed messiah was suddenly and violently removed from their presence. The dreams of those who believed were dashed, and the community of followers were left — both literally and metaphorically — wandering the road into a future that seemed empty of joy and filled with despair. Hopefulness had turned into brokenness.

For members of the Class of 2020, subjects of New Testament narratives, or others caught within the unexpected ebbs and flows of everyday life, many have expressed or contemplated a semblance of discontent and disbelief. Our existence is filled with painful twists and turns that lead onto the thoroughfare of distress, discontent and even disillusionment. We know that life is filled with frustrations, yet we also suffer quite seriously when we imagined something different. While people are diverse in various and vibrant ways, we all have experienced various degrees of disappointment and we all have felt the downpour of despair.

“But we had hoped our loved ones would not fall ill.”

“But we had hoped to return to work.”

“But we had hoped to welcome a new child into the world.”

“But we had hoped to make the payment.

“But we had hoped to resolve the conflict.

“But we had hoped to keep our promise.”

“But we had hoped…”

When dreams appear to shatter and resolutions fail to match reality, we experience an assortment of beliefs and emotions. Disappointment itself is like a virus that starts in our hearts and scars our existence, and when our hope is harmed it leaves a wound that can hinder the fullness of our lives. Yet perhaps most of all, when confronted with hardship we are left wondering — like Cleopas and others — if we are abandoned and alone in the midst of our struggles. Like those who found themselves trapped with despair between the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we too are tempted to feel deserted and disregarded during our own times of disappointment. We wonder:

“Does anyone care that my future is now so fragile?”

“Am I alone in my agony?”

“How could this possibly happen when I have done nothing to deserve it?”

“Is my life ruined?”

“Will anyone listen?”

“Is anyone paying attention?

While it may not seem possible within the melancholy of the moment, when hopefulness turns into brokenness we can trust that brokenness can turn into wholeness. History is filled with accounts of those who refuse to grant loss the final word. In the midst of their unexpected despair on the road to Emmaus, the travelers eventually experienced an even more unexpected spirit of resilience and redemption. Through their story we too can receive strength as we write our own next chapter. Instead of being drenched with disappointment Cleopas and his companion received the power of community and resurrected life that awaited them. Instead of surrendering to circumstance they honored their past without being hostage to it. They were aware of the present while not being trapped in it, and they journeyed into the future not as victims of history but authors of it. They were shown that the clouds of life can clear, the sun can rise, life can follow death, and with burning hearts they could change direction. The same can be true for us all, especially those of the graduating Class of 2020.

Whether it was thousands of years ago or in the midst of our current struggles, the good news is that hurt can give birth to hope. We can believe this to be true. When our local and global communities are increasingly connected yet isolated, diverse yet distant and filled with anticipation and optimism yet also panic and aggression, we need not despair. We too can journey in new ways when we receive the boldness and humility to accept our altered course. We can allow our once-buried imaginations to be brought back to life. Our wounds can serve as sources of strength, vulnerability can overcome violence and old ways of being can be overcome by new rays of light. On the road to Emmaus and many times since, our greatest triumphs often follow our greatest trials, and our hope ultimately does not disappoint.

Instead of dreaming for a better past, we are invited to become authors of a better future. So may God bless you, Class of 2020, with the compassion and courage to keep moving forward. Hope is more than wishful thinking. Hope is the impulse and initiative to move beyond our stillness and sadness, to embrace our burning hearts and take the next step. So may you find the ability to be kind and the capacity to make the wrongs of this world more fully right. May you maintain the determination to be loyal, the conviction to embody your beliefs, the grit to improve each day, the resilience to confront reality and the clarity of purpose to lead in service to our common good. May you always retain the strength to seek knowledge, the wisdom to include others and the integrity to keep your promises. And most of all, especially in times such as these, may you be sustained – today and always – with the audacity and humility to never lose hope. 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

Political scientist Henry Brady explores how trust has broken down in the U.S. and what we can do about it.
"Intel, which ranked second on the REDI Index last year, overtook Google, last year's top company, by 10 points in 2021. Intel’s public conference on religious inclusion earned it the extra boost."
"The letter says its signers feel compelled to condemn such expressions, "just as many Muslim leaders have felt the need to denounce distorted, violent versions of their faith" in previous years."
During the coronavirus pandemic, Moncayo has led the food distribution program through Mosaic West Queens Church in the Sunnyside neighborhood.
Raja writes about the usefulness or appropriateness of the term "BIPOC" - Black, Indigenous, People of Color- in discourse about race and justice, and how it relates to and reflects the politics of race and racism in the United States.
The river has been important since the dawn of civilization and has served as a commercial hub and lifeline for countless peoples over many millennia. Yet there has always seemed to be a justice that was out of reach for some.
"Many synagogues are leaning into the Purim tradition of giving gifts to friends and the poor— a custom known as “mishloach manot.”
"We know through surveys that people are more likely to like Muslims if they know one personally. But because only about 1% of Americans practice the Islamic faith, many people just don’t come into contact with any Muslims."
Purim tells the tale of Esther, an orphaned girl-turned-queen, how she married King Achashverosh, then saved the entire Jewish community in the ancient Persian city of Shushan, through her bravery and wit.
Higher education remains highly unequal and racial divides persist. How can these realities be explained in a context defined by wokeness?
There are so many forces that pull people apart from one another. Institutions and systems and ways of thinking that want us to feel separated, broken, helpless, and quick to capitalize on moments of weakness. The very thing that brings out...
Others noted Rihanna chose to display Ganesh on Feb. 15, the day Hindus celebrate as Ganesh's birthday, or Ganesh Jayanti. The god of beginnings, Ganesh is honored before starting a business or major project.
Until this year, most schools, states and national high school athletic associations had typically forbidden religious headwear, citing safety concerns, unless a student or coach had applied for a waiver. No waiver, no play.
Do a quick Google or YouTube search for tarot, and you’ll find the two main things people tend to inquire about are love and money. Underlying these inquiries is a belief that a tarot reading can tell the future, which begs the question of whether...
The results are based on responses from some 1,800 Black American adults, including more than 800 who attend a Black church. The California research firm conducted the survey in the spring of 2020.
Asian Americans are suffering under the weight of these mounting incidents. Many, including those in our own circles, have expressed concern about leaving their homes to perform everyday tasks.
"Black residents make up a little under half of Washington’s population, but constitute nearly three-fourths of the city's COVID-19 deaths."
Can interfaith leadership foster greater equity for the health of communities of color? Four leaders in healthcare discuss racial health disparities in our nation and how interfaith leadership can be implemented in order to solve them.
“It's an invitation to be subversive by focusing on ourselves."
Across the state, nearly every major health care system has partnered with Black and Hispanic houses of worship to expand vaccine access, setting up mobile clinics in their parking lots and fellowship halls.
Gandhi organized a nonviolent protest on behalf of the farmers. That was when the word satyagraha was used for the first time in the context of a political protest.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.