Desi Roots, Global Wings – a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience.
The world today may seem uncertain and scary but that is how it has always been. Some classic words of advice to calm new graduates.
A year ago I was disappointed at not being able to celebrate my elder daughter’s graduation from college. It was a milestone that I had anticipated almost as eagerly as she had, and perhaps for much longer. She had done her part and just as she got close to the finish line, Covid-19 swooped in. Life changed in a blink.
Instead of hanging out with friends after the last exam, everyone was huddled in their homes not knowing when they would meet in person again. Instead of embarking on the long-awaited and meticulously planned grad trip, air tickets and AirBnB bookings were cancelled. The final straw was the decision to defer her Master’s program by a year.
This year my younger daughter graduated from high school. And again, it was a milestone that we quietly marked inside our home. Last year the pandemic had been an unexpected and acute pain that had annoyed us. This year, we bore it like a familiar chronic condition that we have learned to live with.
Coming of age in the time of a pandemic
Graduation from high school and college are important milestones in a young person’s life. Through their own effort and with the contributions of an army of well-wishers that includes parents, teachers, tutors, administrators, and coaches, they have finally arrived. The public celebration of the event marks not just the completion of a course of education but also a visible declaration of the faith in the future of the young person who stands at the threshold of an exciting turn in life.
From being sheltered at home and in a small cohesive school, university life with its vast halls of knowledge awaits the high school graduate while the wide world of work embraces the college graduate who is ready to put her education to use. That was then.
For now, it is not clear whether the classes at college will be online or in person, and whether work life means meeting people face to face or on zoom call.
Uncertainty is tiring, particularly for a generation that has been accustomed to a predictable life, one that can be created with nothing more than a smartphone and wifi.
How things have changed
While watching the recent Friends reunion show, I was reminded of how we used to patiently wait for the weekly episode when the hugely popular show aired on American television. Now my children talk about an entire season ‘dropping’, code for an impending binge watching session.
When I left Mumbai and moved to Maryland thirty years ago, phone calls were a luxury that were pre-scheduled and strictly timed. The brevity of the conversation was offset by the mere ability to hear the voice of your loved ones. For heartfelt communication, I wrote long letters to my parents. I still cherish those yellowing pieces of paper and remnants of aerogrammes that are the only tangible proof of my communication with my parents who are no more.
Today youngsters text and connect with friends over social media platforms incessantly. I wonder if I should consider writing handwritten letters to my daughter when she leaves home for graduate school next month. Would she value it the same way I value my mothers letters given all the ways in which we can stay in touch today?
She talks about writing down simple recipes for homemade food that she might miss. I had done the same at her age. I used cookbooks or watched TV shows to learn unusual dishes. But now I glibly suggest YouTube, knowing that it can throw up multiple recipes for every palate in a few seconds. And if that seems like too much work, it takes only a food delivery app (and a credit card) for exotic food to appear at your doorstep within an hour.
From checking out a holiday destination on google so thoroughly that there were hardly any surprises when you arrived at a glacier in Iceland or at the world’s southernmost observatory in New Zealand to expecting wifi connectivity even on a cruise to nowhere (a recent experience thanks to Covid-19), there’s much that distinguishes the life my children have from the one I did.
It doesn’t take much to cause disruption
In the age of disruption, it’s not a man-made innovation but a tiny virus that has impacted humanity across the world in unimaginable ways.
Yet, with or without a pandemic, the world marches on, offering us new ways of working and living, new challenges to overcome, new choices to make. Every generation is shaped by the times in which it comes of age. Formal education may stop at the end of a course of study, growth does not stop at any age.
The one thing that connects every subsequent generation is the fact that each one of us has to find our own way in the world and in life, given the gifts and constraints of our times.
While the pandemic is a pain, it is not permanent (I hope).
I have long been a fan of speeches that accomplished speakers give at college campuses across the US. Their words are wise and true, polished nuggets gleaned from their own trials and tribulations as they succeeded.
What words would poets and philosophers, scientists and economists, writers and influencers say to this year? I haven’t seen any speeches yet.
Here is what I would like to say to graduating cohorts that step into a new phase of life.
The world is an uncertain place.
Life is an imperfect experiment.
Our job is to keep trying, to work with what we have and keep moving towards where we want to go.
Don’t fret about how it will all play out.
In the end, the future also becomes the past. One that you may become nostalgic for, or treasure as a formative experience that shaped you in myriad ways.
The easiest motto to adopt is not a new creation but a recent revival of a phrase that originated during the Second World War – Keep Calm and Carry On.
It is a reminder that challenges may come and go but fortitude is indispensable.
Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, a former resident of USA, who now lives in Singapore with her family. She is presently working on a memoir. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She loves connecting with readers at her website and at Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram