I don't like that man. I must get to know him better.
What power lies in an idea, and how can you know the truth?
Yours is a historic high school experience unique to only you and this time and place. You experienced almost half of your high school virtually, Husky or Pride; you were sanitized, contact traced, deep nasal swabbed, Zoomed, socially distanced, and suffered from being socially distant.
Since I began writing this letter, masks have been removed from our daily lives, but the divisions they sowed are more profound, more damaging, and lasting than any cloth that covered our faces. Some masked for safety, others struggled against lost control. Neighbor turned on neighbor, bonds built over a lifetime were severed. It seems the adult world teaches us to disavow those with whom we disagree, defining right or wrong and requiring us to choose a side. Perhaps your purpose is greater than just choosing sides.
As Lincoln reminds us, I don't like that man. I must get to know him better. When I was roundly criticized for enforcing the wearing of masks in schools, I held tightly to the belief that every parent, even those angry with me, was seeking the same thing – what was best for their children. How can you know the truth? My work, your work, is to help people find those ideas that bind us together; it is much harder work than choosing sides.
Your beautiful quiet acts have already demonstrated, more powerfully than words, how generosity and understanding can overcome differences and bind us through humanity. After the mask mandate was lifted, students who supported and opposed masks reached out to their teachers with immunocompromised family members. They offered to willingly wear masks, overcome their personal differences, and provide a measure of compassion not borne of science or politics but of love.
Since I began this letter, the most profound development has been Russia's unprovoked war on Ukraine. Unspeakable human tragedy and atrocities have unfolded and revealed the Ukrainian people's unflinching inspirational courage. Ukraine defeating a nuclear power is unlikely, but Ukrainians remain steadfast; what compels a people to risk everything? President Zelinsky, a former comedian, has roused the world's conscience by illuminating the Ukrainian people’s plight as the plight of all free people. His arguments are not based on politics or power but on the ideals that bind us.
Our lives are measured in the small acts of kindness and generosity we show or fail to show one another each day. Many things divide us, but look to the small acts of compassion you offered your teachers, to people fighting impossible odds, and to the powerful ideas that bind us; it is much harder than simply choosing sides.
Congratulations on your graduation; I am proud of every single one of you.