“In 1665, the University of Cambridge temporarily closed due to the bubonic plague. Isaac Newton had to work from home, and he used this time to develop calculus and the theory of gravity.” I’m sure your move to online instruction and remote learning has been just as productive.
Martin Kleppmann tweeted this out on March 9. After a little Googling, I found the actual quote from Newton about what historians call “annus mirabilis” or his “year of wonders.” The budding 23-year-old scientist did indeed use this time outside of the classroom to discover many groundbreaking theories that went on to revolutionize science.
Over the last few months, we’ve heard the words “unprecedented,” “uncertain” and “troubling” used more than we care to recall. I don’t know about you but if I get one more email from (insert favorite retailer here) about us all being in this together … but seriously if I get one more email … period.
I tell you the Newton story to remind you that there’s really “nothing new under the sun.” From the bubonic plague to the influenza epidemic of 1918, time and again society has been forced to deal with inexplicable loss of life at alarming rates, widespread personal and financial turmoil, fear of the unknown and attempts to escape the effects of an invisible but deadly scourge.
Our technologically advanced and globally interconnected society faces unique challenges due to COVID-19. That same technology allows us to stay connected in ways our ancestors could never have imagined, but the sheer volume of conflicting information we receive can at times be paralyzing.
Against the backdrop of the novel coronavirus, you have persevered. You overcame the abrupt end to the senior year you had envisioned and the memories you expected to make.
You transitioned completely to online learning. The struggle was real for everyone, including your teachers and professors who reinvented the wheel all while balancing their own home lives. Take advantage of this downtime to let them know how much you appreciate their efforts.
Someday you can tell your grandkids about how you submitted your final group assignment at 11:59 p.m. even with bad Wi-Fi, a sibling on a sleep strike howling in the next room and never hearing from that one guy on your team even though he apparently had plenty of time to learn the latest dance on TikTok.
Some of you have had to face seemingly insurmountable obstacles – unexpected economic hardship, tough home situations, job loss or you or your loved one catching the virus.
We haven’t all been quarantine and chilling.
By the way, even a genius like Isaac Newton had a troubled home life. His father passed away before he was born, his mother remarried a man he came to dislike and he was raised by his maternal grandmother. Like I said, there’s nothing new.
Regardless of your personal situation, you’ve made it to this day. Take a moment to appreciate all you have accomplished and those who have supported you throughout this journey.
As you learned in your English literature classes, “no man is an island.”
We don’t know what the new normal is yet. We don’t know when we are going to have a vaccine or effective treatment regimens.
Your summer plans may be up in the air. Like many, your job or internship opportunities may have drastically changed over the past few months.
In times of uncertainty, go back to the basics and ground yourself by reaffirming your core values.
The education you have received has empowered you with tools and honed your critical thinking skills. These skills will serve you well in whatever field you eventually find yourself.
More important than book knowledge and life skills is who you fundamentally are as a person.
The coronavirus crisis has exposed us.
We’ve seen the dark side of human nature. After the initial stories of toilet paper hoarders subsided, we’ve witnessed extremism on both sides of the “stay home” vs. “reopen now” crowds.
However, we have seen the front-line workers rise to the challenge. We have seen little kids sewing masks. We’ve read about the Italian priest who declined to use a ventilator so another patient had a chance to live.
The pandemic has taken much from us, but what remains is who we truly are at our core.
As you start your next chapter, remember that humanity has been here before, but you have not: Tomorrow still holds the potential to be your “year of wonders.”