Pandemic Thoughts

Graduation in a Pandemic

This week has been bittersweet as students have graduated from their most recent educational endeavors without the usual fanfare. Many creative ways have been found, instead, to celebrate these special people, notably by our highly respected former president who stepped into the void and expressed what needed to be said by someone of his stature. It is up to this year’s students who graduated during our country’s lowest ebb, to put things right in this world, though the task may seem incredibly difficult.

Peony purchased from Cricket Hill Garden in 2016 bloomed yesterday! ©2020 Janet Maher

The “long strange trip it’s been” saddens me on behalf of the class who entered my university in 2016 and for all their peers around the world. While every class is special in its own way, this one is ever more so. Those who completed master and doctoral levels, bachelor and high school degrees, unlike any of us before them, have arrived to their recent plateaus to see the strangest of new worlds, currently suffering for reasons they inherited but did not create. This sadness is accompanied with hope in my heart for them. The current younger generations grew up knowing how to work together and be kind to each other. They grew up watching Sesame Street and were taught by elders who instilled healthy habits in them. Many of the 2020 university graduates embrace the attitudes that millions also did at their age, a bit like new, improved, versions of ourselves. This is somewhat reassuring.

Young People’s Climate March, Baltimore, MD ©2019 Janet Maher

Among these graduates are the leaders who will steer things forward in collaboration with their peers who have grown up in a world that went dangerously awry. It is necessary for today’s empowered graduates who know how to work at staying centered in themselves while remaining open to good energy to treat their future as a blank slate of positive potential. Creatively, peacefully, each must do what has not yet been accomplished. In their own ways each much play their relative part “as if their hair were on fire”, while they actively grow into the fullness of themselves. All of us have been at this frightful point looking out into the great unknown—some of us multiple times—but never when the stakes were as high as they are now. 

I spent yesterday in my own time out, remaining outdoors for several hours in the shade that moved around our tiny back yard, relishing the ever-changing sounds around me as I drew. I was reminded of summer breaks from college, when this was one of the things I’d do at my mother’s house (even smaller than ours). My drawings were simpler then and only in gray scale. They were also based in observations of the natural world and some are still treasured. Looking out from my chosen spot, myriad buds of peonies I had transplanted from her yard nineteen years ago are about to bloom again. I relished the glory of my three-foot tall irises that have returned, bigger and stronger than ever in many spots around our home. But no new bloom was more thrilling than the special peony we purchased in 2016 when taking our now deceased dear family friend on an excursion to Cricket Hill Garden in Torrington, Connecticut. Yesterday morning it finally opened! I take this as a sign that all will be better, and I offer that hope for the 2020 graduates. Step by step, with nurturing, tending one’s inner fire, keeping one’s own pilot light safe, following the purest directions that come from within the best of oneself, will lead to your beautiful blossoming. May it be! Let it be.

For those who enjoy my links, a new collection:

Music & Videos:

  • Maryland’s longstanding wildly-loved band, Boister’s, fearless leader, Anne Hambleton Watts, celebrates her daughter’s and other 2020 graduates’ time with beautiful selections of music on WHCP, three segments (A, B, C) of Woman Wattage: Graduation 2020.
  • Headspace has begun to post daily uplifting podcast messages on Spotify and other music-listening sites, search Radio Headspace.
  • My wonderful yoga teacher, Martha Wallace McAlpine, streams daily classes from her YouTube channel, and on Facebook.
  • Jason Isbell interview on Trevor Noah’s Daily Show
  • Worth watching again, angry Italian mayors on March 24.
  • Tipperary, Ireland’s, football star, Padriac Maher, has a gentler approach. He and “Doctor Caroline O’Hanlon share their experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic and how they’re coping without Gaelic games.” Listen to them here.
  • My former students have certainly heard of The Story of Stuff project. Their most recent endeavor, a feature-length documentary, The Story of Plastic, is available in various ways and folks are encouraged to watch it in virtual group gatherings. Although I haven’t seen this yet, these days plastic itself flashes me back to that scene in The Graduate, 1967, when Ben/Dustin Hoffman is given financial advice. We have finally all come to the realization that in our lifetimes plastic has polluted the entire planet. (I won’t be surprised if this clip is in the film.)

To Read & Listen:

Congratulations to the graduates of 2020 despite all that is going on! Everyone stay safe, well, connected, and pay attention to the scientists.

©2020 Janet Maher

By Janet Maher

I am a visual artist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Art from Loyola University Maryland. My longstanding interest in the history and culture of the land of my ancestors accompanied my work in the studio for many years, and I have written two books about that.

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