By Barbara Gruener
I’d never even heard the phrase the golden hour until I entered that second-grade classroom in early March for a mindfulness visit and my student jumped up, blurting out, “Yay, it’s time for my golden hour!” Before I had a chance to research that expression, I heard it again in a conversation with my daughter about scheduling time during the golden hour to sneak away with the wedding photographer to get some sweet newlywed shots. In photography, she explained, the golden hour (also called the magic hour) is the time shortly before sunset that provides warm, soft lighting with a lovely golden hue. Doesn’t that sound serenely picturesque?
Today, as I think about the Class of 2020, it feels oddly like this pandemic pandemonium has robbed our high school seniors of their golden hour—their window of unparalleled beauty to celebrate and capture their high school lasts, their chance for closure after 13 years of training toward the goal of crossing that stage, reaching out for that diploma, and flipping that tassel to the other side of their graduation cap.
When high schoolers reach the spring semester of their senior year, they sprint through a series of lasts: their last high school musical, their last state-level competitions, their last spring break. But since school campuses closed without much warning, this year’s class has missed many lasts. The events that make up the magic of March through May, all those rite-of-passage traditions we have historically savored—every single one of them has been deleted from seniors’ digital calendars. No last field trips. No last sporting events. No last prom. No last day of school. Well, they did have a last day, but most didn’t realize that it would be their last. That much-anticipated golden hour, when the lighting should have been optimal as seniors grabbed snapshots for their memory books, was replaced with a harsh new reality.
To the Class of 2020, we see you, you matter to us, and we hurt for you. Consider these tips to help you find healing and hope.
1. Feel All the Feels
Whether you’re feeling a silent scream or a loud lament, acknowledge and validate every single emotion that visits you right now. Sadness? Cry it out. Anger? Sit with it for a spell. Frustration? I hear you. Despair? Breathe through it. Relief? Invite it in. Happiness (because school wasn’t really your thing)? Share it. There simply is no right or wrong way to feel.
Dr. Jody Carrington, author of Kids These Days, reminds us on her daily Facebook Live videos that where feelings are concerned, we have to name them to tame them. Don’t let any emotions go unrecognized, because it’s in feeling that we’ll find healing. Trust your feelings; fight the temptation to go around or ignore the more difficult ones. Find creative ways to work through your feelings so that they don’t stay with you longer than you need them. Draw them out. Write them down. Work them out physically through exercise or yoga. Deep breathe through them. Awaken your senses and practice mindfulness. Have a good cry. Give grace. Get plenty of sleep. Lean into the pain and lean on family and friends who can listen without judgment and help you process your feelings as you talk through them.
If you get stuck in an emotion like sadness that won’t let go, seek out professional help through a hotline or a televisit with your school counselor or a local therapist.
2. Re-Create What You’ve Lost
Nothing will replace the special events you’re missing, like the prom that the junior class was planning for you. Period. Still, you can take back some of those lost moments. During a recent webinar, Dr. Adam Saenz, author of The EQ Intervention, suggested finding creative ways to re-create the activities you’re missing out on. If prom is what you’re missing, then when it’s safe, go ahead and rent that limo, don those fancy duds (or put on tattered jeans), pick up your friends, and go grab some grub to make it a night you’ll still be talking about at your class reunion.
All across the globe, seniors are already doing just that. These teens in Houston, Texas, suited up to share their prom plans for the local newspaper, while these girls from Mooresville High School in Indiana actually hosted a driveway prom and danced in their dresses. This Fountain Valley, California, senior is making yard signs to celebrate her friends. Student leaders at Friendswood High School in Texas are gathering at a safe distance for their Senior Sunset in the school’s parking lot later this month.
If your graduation plans are still pending, connect with classmates online to figure out how you might walk across that stage, even if it has to be virtual for now. Passionately scripting this chapter of your story will empower you as you process what you’ve lost and discover what’s waiting to be found.
3. Move Forward with Intention
We are wired to do hard things, so don’t let this setback keep you from a comeback. Weed out any unhelpful or fixed-mindset thoughts that might try to hold you back from moving on. Keep an eye out for the blessings in this burden by paying attention to the positives. Perhaps it’s the extra time that you’ve been given with your parents, caregivers, or siblings. Or maybe you’ve appreciated the chance to restore the rhythm of rest. Take care of yourself wholeheartedly, with everything you’ve got—mind, body, and spirit.
Travel through the five stages of grief as laid out by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross decades ago (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) in person with your family or online with your friends. Once you’ve tackled the tough stuff that this quarantine chaos has thrown at you, you’ll be armed with stronger resilience skills and the grit you’ll need for the next hardship that comes your way.
Plan for it to be painful as you virtually bid adieu to your peers, to underclassmen friends, and to the teachers that you’re leaving behind. Consider using this time of physical separation to stay connected by heart; calling someone on the phone or writing a thank-you note could be a cathartic way to find closure. When you’re done writing to others, go ahead and pen a Dear Me letter to yourself. What was this pandemic experience like for you? What was the hardest part? What did you miss the most or not at all? What were your hopes for the semester? What did you discover about yourself? What surprised you? What concerned you? What kindness or generosity did you appreciate? What did you learn? Share that letter with a family member or friend, then tuck it away in a COVID-19 time capsule to read in the future, perhaps with children and grandchildren one day.
As you sit with your feelings during this trying time, remember to encourage and support others while they sit with theirs. Resist the temptation to compare. Just be. In the moment. Show empathy and compassion. When you’re ready, find a way to do something bigger than yourself as you serve and grow into who you are becoming. In a recent phone interview, Dr. Michele Borba, researcher and author of End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy, added these words of encouragement and support: “Keep carrying on because we can take your lead and learn from you.” (You can also watch our Zoom chat on “Finding Ourselves During Loss.”)
This isn’t the end, but the beginning. Class of 2020, we are proud of you and we can’t wait to watch you bounce into your new normal as you seize the magic of the myriad golden hours that await.
Bonus: Free Download!
Dream Up Now is a guided journal for teens (coming September 2020), offering creative tools for transforming pain into power and showing readers how to design their lives to go the way they want. Click here to get a free, compact “Emergency Emotions Set” to help the teens in your life cope with specific emotions during the pandemic. Coming once a month, the sets cover:
- I Feel Isolated / I Feel Belonging
- I Feel Disappointed / I Feel Fulfilled
- I Feel Stress / I Feel Calm
- I Feel Fear / I Feel Safety
Dream Up Now is all about moving from darkness into light.
Barbara Gruener is a nationally recognized school counselor, speaker, and character coach who has had the pleasure of working with and growing alongside of learners from every grade level during her 36 years as an educator. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara works passionately to influence school climate change while fostering healthy habits and caring connections among school families and their stakeholders. In addition to spending time with her family and friends, Barbara loves inspiring people to savor being in the moment as they unwrap the present with gratitude and hope.
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