A MESSAGE TO THE POST-2020 GRADUATES (Article) by Dr. Abidan Paul Shah
(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on May 19, 2021)
“Give ear, all you inhabitants of the land! Has anything like this happened in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?” Joel 1:2
According to Dictionary.com, the People’s Choice Word of the Year for 2020 was “unprecedented,” meaning “never done or known before.” There are so many things that we all had to face that we had never done or known before. This became especially apparent in the field of education, as educators had to take on the incredible challenge of teaching and holding students accountable without being present in a brick-and-mortar classroom. Students and families had to accept the fact that education must go on, albeit from their computer screens. Graduating seniors had to come to grips with the sad reality that their final year would be nothing like they had imagined. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning. More challenges await the graduating class of 2020-2021, as they are the first generation of graduates that are entering into “Unprecedented Times.” The road before our graduates is littered with economic uncertainties, racial and political divisions, and fear of another pandemic around the corner.
How can our post-2020 graduates navigate these turbulent waters? We have to understand that even prior to the coming of the current global crisis, we have been slumping for some time into a new age – an Age of Paradoxes—where we are both smarter and dumber, united and divided, and bold and afraid, all at the same time. The culprit behind these paradoxes is the Internet, especially social media. Don’t misunderstand: The Internet has brought tremendous benefits to our world. People from poor and remote corners of the world now have access to knowledge and information at just the click of a button. The world has become smaller, faster, and easier as communications, transactions, and even shopping have been revolutionized. Social media platforms have connected us with old friends and helped us make new ones. Researchers claim that in some areas self-esteem is on the rise, as young and old are unafraid to post their photos and videos online, and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, the Internet is also filled with loads of false information, especially on social media, which was the root cause of much panic and fearmongering through the 2020 crisis. The various social media platforms that were meant to connect us have also become weapons to attack one another. It’s easy to be a “keyboard warrior” and fire off a post or a tweet against someone you disagree with. If you really don’t like someone, you can cancel and shame them out of your tribe without giving them a chance to explain themselves or apologize. People are afraid of being called out online for some action or lack thereof. Concurrently, many decisions of 2020 were, and still are, made out of fear of being shamed. If our post-2020 graduates are to survive these unprecedented times and be successful, they will have to craft an identity that is distinct from their social media persona. They will have to seek a new set of paradoxes similar to the ones adopted by a group of young people over 2500 years ago who were forcibly taken into exile and given new names – Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They had to adapt to their new setting but still maintain their convictions: They complied when they were given Babylonian names, but they resisted when it came to eating unclean food. They remembered their past in Jerusalem but chose to focus on their present life in Babylon. They worked as if their success depended on them and prayed as if it depended on God, even to the point of being thrown in a lion’s den. Ultimately, they were aware of their hopelessness but remained hopeful for the future. Post-2020 graduates, as you approach the new age of paradoxes, choose these paradoxes instead and claim the promise of Jesus Christ, “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).