An open letter to the class of 2020


Landscape near Lake Sinissippi. A peaceful place that is perfect for reflection.

Peter Laning, Writer, Podcaster


This wasn’t supposed to be how the story ends.  There were too many pages left in the book and now we find that they’ve all been left blank.   

As a fellow member of the class of 2020, I acknowledge that any words and suggestions that I have on this matter cannot possibly relieve our deep-rooted feelings of confusion and anxiety during these difficult times.  The spread of COVID-19 has robbed me, robbed us – all of us – of many “last” experiences that we now can never retrieve.   

2020 was supposed to be our year.  The year we graduate, start a new career, continue our education via grad school, start a family, travel, or simply see where life takes us.  Now, within a matter of days, that future has seemingly become clouded and words are no longer adequate to convey any true depth of emotion. 

I think it goes without saying that this moment will be forever remembered in the history books – right alongside the Black Plague and the Influenza pandemic of 1918.  But all disease aside, we will be remembered too.  The Class of 2020 will hold a special distinction because of our perseverance in the face of adversity.  Each one of us has a story to tell – and we should tell it. 

When the news first dropped that universities nationwide were beginning to move all programming online, I became determined to 1) read, and 2) write.  In doing so, and in trying to find something – anything – to put into this letter, I was reminded of an interaction between Frodo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring: 

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. 

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” 

That last line was the selling point for me.  As I read it for what felt like the millionth time, I realized that it was silver lining that we all need to see and remember.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. 

So what should – or rather, can – we do? 

After pondering this question for several hours, I think I have come up with a decent list: 

  1. Practice personal hygiene and encourage others to do so as well. 
  1. Start a personal journal and write down everything that comes to mind.  It doesn’t have to be perfect and who knows, someday you might want to look back and remember what life was like in 2020 (I know I will). 
  1. Create art.  Through my own study of the humanities, I have realized that struggle and personal hardship has produced the most beautiful artwork in the world.  And again, whatever you create does not have to be perfect and it can be in the medium of your choosing. 
  1. Try something NEW.  I know this seems strange, but there is no better time to try out a new skill that you’ve been considering for a while. 
  1. Take a virtual tour of a museum/historic site.  I’ve seen links posted all over social media, but you can also Google virtual tours and get tons of hits. 
  1. Remember that there is still HOPE in the world.  Look around and you’ll see Italians singing from balconies and neighbors helping neighbors.  It’s beautiful. 
  1. Do whatever you feel most comfortable doing.  Sometimes a sense of normalcy is exactly what we need to continue moving forward. 

And moving forward is exactly what we’ll do.   

This is our chance to demonstrate our humanity.  Our chance to use our innate skills and abilities to make this world a better place.  Our chance to show what resilience really means.  And our chance to be representative of the class of 2020.   


Yours sincerely in health and hardship 

Peter Laning 

History Major/Theology Minor, Class of 2020 


P.S. John Denver’s Sweet Surrender contains a message of hope that I feel everybody should hear: 

Lost and alone on some forgotten highway
Traveled by many, remembered by few
Lookin’ for something that I can believe in
Lookin’ for something that I’d like to do with my life 

There’s nothin’ behind me and nothin’ that ties me to
Something that might have been true yesterday
Tomorrow is open, right now it seems to be more than enough
To just be here today, and I don’t know 

What the future is holdin’ in store
I don’t know where I’m goin’ I’m not sure where I’ve been
There’s a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me
My life is worth the livin’, I don’t need to see the end 

(Full song here)