There wasn’t much I was ever more sure of than that I would be in California this weekend watching my firstborn son, Holden, being conferred a bachelor’s degree. That I am at home in Minneapolis, while he is sleeping in a spartan bedroom 1,844 miles away, is one of the greatest face slaps of this ridiculous year.
I remember the moment we bade him farewell in the dusk of an August night in 2016, the California sun setting over a Pacific Ocean we could not see through Orange County’s sprawl. We had little idea what the next four years would hold, surely not a reality show host’s election as president and a global pandemic bookending my son’s college tenure.
In between, there were roommates with substance-abuse problems, a fraternity whose allure burned brightly then flickered out, a lifetime supply of indifferent professors and classmates, the standard array of regrettable choices, and tests of emotional and intellectual endurance.
There were also lifelong friends made, Dodgers playoff games, two charming girlfriends (consecutive, not concurrent), endless balmy days (while the rest of us froze), an exhilarating semester in Madrid, and a few special professors and classes — all culminating in a young person no less eager to make his mark on the world than when it all began.
It was as his mom and I would have wished it — a growth experience.
Pandemics are rife with tragedy, death and loss. Most of us are experiencing some of that. Among the losses are life-cycle events. Most will be postponed, to be savored in the future.
But some milestones simply evaporate, and so I especially feel for this class of 2020.
College successfully completed, for those privileged enough to attend, is a marker of personal initiative, the first real taking of adult responsibility. The cap-and-gown pomp is a ceremonial entrance into adult self-reliance.
A university can postpone an event, but there is no postponing the fact that adult life begins the next day. Millennials talk collectively of being scarred by the ’08 recession; the class of 2020 will need to be made of even sterner stuff.
For my son, I can draw upon no life experience for advice on how to pursue a career when your chosen profession is shut down indefinitely.
Our block in Minneapolis is chock-full of 18- to 23-year-olds moldering in childhood bedrooms, awaiting the resumption of adult lives. Some are in college, some newly graduated, some temporary refugees from a suddenly lonely existence in a bigger city.
My kid chose to ride out the pandemic in California, near college friends and a significant other. I tried not to take it personally. “You raised me to be independent, right?” he asked. I did.
For an extroverted person who thrives on the energy of others, he has spent far too many hours alone since March, yet I assume he is stronger for it; being by yourself is an adult skill worth honing.
He’s been busily applying for jobs and internships, here, there and everywhere, and he may get a nibble in the coming days. But the SoCal lease is up in five weeks and a Minneapolis encore may be in the wings. Due to a narrow staircase, my wife and I were unable to turn his 8-by-10-foot bedroom into a makeshift pandemic gym, so all is as he remembers, except the house is occupied all day by people who will mostly annoy him.
This weekend’s virtual toast from his university offers small solace. Starting out adult life with a giant helping of the universe’s randomness and our pitiful lack of control is as character-building an introduction as one could ever receive.
What I’d offer him and his fellow grads is this: No matter the hysterics you read online, the world is not permanently altered, and your time will come sooner than you imagine. Until then, we’ve got plenty of toilet paper, and will gladly lay in some ramen to make you feel at home.
When Holden was a kid, we used to talk about applying to run CBS’ “The Amazing Race” which premiered when he was 3. Its 33rd installment was set to be run this year, but production is on hold due to the pandemic. For old time’s sake we’ve been streaming reruns at home. At each race’s start, host Phil Keoghan offers a singular admonition: “The world is waiting for you. … Travel safe. … Go!”
In truth, the benediction is just for the cameras, filmed before contestants even gather. In real life, Keoghan stands behind the racers, so as not to get run over, and just yells “go.”
It’s perhaps an apt metaphor for the promise of adulthood. Though the advance billing is awesome, you often feel like you’ve been sold a bill of goods, no more so, I imagine, than this summer.
Yet life is an amazing race nonetheless. Even if chapter one may find you waking each morning staring at pictures of now-retired Twins greats you taped to your ceiling when you were 9.
Grads, the world is probably not waiting for you, but it needs you nonetheless. Your future is merely on pause. So congratulations. The starter’s gun will fire before you know it.
Adam Platt is executive editor of Twin Cities Business.