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  • Writer's pictureTrish Dotts

Mourning and Empathy Graduation 2020

For those grieving at the end of this school year.


I have never liked the idea of lowering a standard, or easing the expectation in order for some people to be able to participate. But, this has always lead to some morally complex struggles.

Because by having those standards we clearly exclude a portion of the population. Sometimes that is necessary. In the military, firefighters, doctors, and nuclear physicists it is necessary to have people who are fully capable in those roles.

Public School

By definition, public school teaches everybody except those who choose a different route. I once heard, “Just like a public restroom, we serve everyone.” Because of this, I have always struggled with systems that exclude students who didn’t even have a chance to attain the rewards that we glorify in the school system. Public schools contain every type of person reflected in America so there is a need to have responsive expectations and standards.

COVID School and Year-end Ceremonies.

Social media allows us to vent our feelings, share our joys, and banter around political topics. Right now there are funny memes, pleas for more freedoms, fears about getting infected, and mourning. Many parents are mourning the loss of school sports, academic celebrations, graduations, and those precious hours where other adults take care of our kids at school.

Even with COVID-19, I feel truly happy for my friends whose children are exceptional, as they receive rewards and accolades. I feel happy for them because I want my friends to feel happy. There is so much joy that comes from one’s own offspring reaping the rewards of effort and practice and resilience. I love seeing people earn Purple Bunnies, from helping others and persevering.

The Florida side

I have to admit a bit of schadenfreude, the feeling when you are kinda happy at someone else’s struggles. I’m not proud of it, but I feel kinda pleased that now, the field is leveled.

You know that mourning some parents are just now going through? Many parents experienced that as soon as their child was born, some at those developmental doctor visits. Some parents began to notice the feeling when they received that first phone call from their child’s teacher.

I am hopeful, that parents of ‘normal’ children will now know what it feels like to have the opportunity for public recognition flitter away. Through no fault of their own, families are suffering the loss of a dream of the child walking across the stage to be laden with a medal, or scholarship.

The hope is that those families may build some empathy for those families who realized that their children would never earn a public award, scholarship or maybe not even walk across a stage to garner a diploma.

Many children who were born with visible and invisible disabilities or social disadvantages do not have access to those dreams. It is true that there are some children who ‘overcome insurmountable obstacles’ to achieve a lofty goal. To be honest most of those goals are rarely reached in the public school system. Because the public school system glorifies high achievement and athletic excellence. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t admire those accomplishments.

But those accolades are reserved for those privileged students who, by the luck of life, had the right skills and interests combined with effort and perseverance and the set of circumstances that led to those external rewards.

It is a hollow feeling to hear other parents glow on about their child when you know that yours can not meet that sort of standard. When I hear those parents glow on, I keep from crying, literally, and paste a smile on my face as I remember that I am so proud that my child goes through more before he gets on the school bus, than that other child accomplishes in a month. My child does not have cheering fans, my child is not motivated by avoiding the ridicule of his peers. He doesn’t even notice it, probably because his socks are causing too much pressure in one place or another. He was not even aware that his grades were possibly a reflection of his efforts. Because though he put in a great deal of effort, his learning disability made it look like he wasn’t even trying.

So, as you grieve the loss of your dream of public recognition, please take a moment to reflect that there are families who grieved the loss of that dream a long time ago. It was difficult for them to realize that their son or daughter was not going to be a brain surgeon, rocket scientist, or NBA star. A friend reflected, “We got a trip to Florida, They got a trip to Paris. We still had a great trip.” We still found joy in activities and growth, but our plans for a trip to the Eiffel Tower had to be adjusted to seeing the Everglades.” And those Florida parents still stood by you as you glow about the Louvre, and smiled as you glowed on about your child. Florida parents adjusted their expectations and mourned and still loved. Florida parents truly understand what you are going through right now. They have had a lot of practice.

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