The Naval Academy taught the parents of the Class of 2020 to be flexible. We got through Plebe Summer. We got through Plebe Year. We rode the roller coaster through summer training and Alpha inspections and restrictions and Army-Navy games and 1,000 other things that all seem like distant memories now.
None of that prepared us for this, life with the coronavirus.
Spring Break ended and, in the snap of a finger, we’ve gone from hearing sporadically from our Mids to seeing them in our kitchen every day. They’ve gone from wearing their Johnny Cash uniforms to class to, well, being out-of-uniform. All the time.
Through all of this, we have been holding out hope. Like the greatest of hope, it isn’t based in reality or facts or what is likely. We have clung to the hope that we would all gather in Annapolis the week of May 17 for one glorious, week-long celebration. We pinned our hopes on Commissioning Week.
We would watch the Class of 2023 scale the Herndon Monument on Monday. We would attend the graduation ball. We would watch the Blue Angels soar overhead practicing for Friday’s big event, ignoring the traffic snarl caused by the roads being closed. We would be gathering in each other’s rented houses, cooking meals, filling glasses, and sharing memories and stories from our four years together – even if it were virtually for the most part – as parents of some of our country’s most amazing kids.
On Friday, we would all gather. Together, really, for the very first time, maybe since Induction Day. What a different feeling. Our Firsties in their crisp white uniforms, the sun so bright we’d squint even behind our sunglasses. One by one, they would cross the stage, receive their diploma, shake hands and stride confidently back to their seat, smiling ear to ear. We’d hear the names and think, “Your Mid is my Mid.”
Then that moment, that glorious, glorious moment. The struggle to get into the Academy – endless essays, interviews, waiting by the mailbox. The four years of highs and lows, laughs and tears, joys and challenges. All leading to this one, singular moment. In one motion, they would remove their hats – excuse me, I should know better as an Academy parent of four years, their covers – and hurl them into the air. Every parent would burn that image into their memory, 1,000 covers hanging in the air. Every parent would join in the chorus of cheers. We would celebrate, all of us, throughout the evening and into the next day, the culmination of more than four years of anticipation.
I caught wind this morning (not from my Mid, of course, who still seems incapable of disseminating important information) that the Class of 2020 received an email from leadership about graduation. Between that email and all the chatter amongst those closer to the Academy, while no one is explicitly saying it, the message seems pretty clear – Commissioning Week will not take place. In fact, it seems unlikely there would be any sort of large-scale gathering for graduation.
Now, I know a lot of people are missing out on a lot of things because of the virus. Spring sports are being canceled. So are proms, weddings, anniversary parties, family reunions, vacations. I know people’s lives are at risk because of this horrible virus. I get that. I work for a healthcare system, so I’m closer than I’d like to be to its impact. So, to be clear, there are worse things happening than the cancellation of Commissioning Week at the United States Naval Academy. But the feeling of loss is real.
I read a Harvard Business Review piece that said the feeling we’re all wrestling with is grief. As our family’s official optimist, I have been able to keep that grief at bay and, along with our dog Falcon, try to keep everyone positive. The high school hadn’t canceled the prom (America’s Best Prom, according to Reader’s Digest) and with Commissioning Week two months away, surely we’ll be on the other side of this nonsense by then. With all the negativity and grief and suffering brought on by COVID-19, Commissioning Week was my light at the end of the tunnel.
Reality, however, does not appear willing to cooperate.
Yes, my son will commission this Spring as an ensign in the United States Navy with a valuable degree from a prestigious institution. But life as an Academy parent is to embrace the tradition and the pageantry of it all. We have been trained to do that. But our training certainly did not prepare us for this.
Perhaps appropriate that the Class of 2020’s motto is “We shall find a way or make one.”
I continue to distract myself with the Herndon playlist:
And the prayer for our Class of 2020. I hope you’ll join me in both.