Dear Class of 2020,

I’d like to tell you a little story:

There was once a bottle, freshly made of glistening glass, waiting. This bottle had high hopes for its future, wondering what would fill it, where it would be sent, and who would open it. The bottle had watched all those before it filled with rich fluids, corked, labeled, and carefully packaged into cushioned crates. It dreamed often of what grand adventures it would have.

Then something happened.

The long procession of bottles before it was interrupted; this bottle was cast from its place, chipped at the rim, and discarded. The bottle was taken from the lineup, was not filled, corked, or labeled and instead flung out into a wild and harsh world.

But it did not break.

Its fall was cushioned by the violently lapping waves of a stormy sea. Tossed to and fro by the winds, it sought to grasp onto something, anything. It looked for a direction, a purpose, a lighthouse hope. But all it saw was more water, higher waves, and it despaired. It had had such clear images of its future and those had been taken. Now, seemingly empty, it floated in a tempestuous desolation.

Except it wasn’t quite empty.

In case you haven’t caught on, you’re the bottle. My heart grieves for your loss, for the blank canvas before you that you know not how to start painting on. I wish I had more than words to give you, but then I’m reminded that words are powerful. So hear this: your are not an empty bottle. You carry with you what you choose to.

Carry fire. Keep your passions lit, your desires warm, and embrace the kindled power of hope. I know you to be a very passionate, warm, and delightful group of students. You’ve provided light and will always do so. Continue to dream of what your future may hold, because I promise that those dreams are still possible, no matter how different they may look once you get to them. Care deeply, love strongly, and carry your fire.

Carry tenderness. It seems easier to harden oneself, to put up walls, and to brace oneself for impact. Distanced pessimism may be a temporary insulator, but in the long run, it makes you brittle. Tenderness is malleable, changing, giving, and resilient. Be vulnerable with your friends, your family; embrace your pain and grapple with it head on rather than thoughtlessly pushing it away. Then, extend that tenderness to others. Be compassionate, show your sorrows, and carry your tenderness.

Carry a message. The words you carry in your heart are the ones that will be poured out of you. From the store-houses of your inner being you will create the fabric of your reality. Which words will you carry with you? When darkness and silence threaten to suffocate, listen to the words of faith, hope, and love. Then share that message with others; rather than hoarding the words of life within the confines of your being, instead be the light that shines those words outward. Shine hope, share light, and carry your message.

One bright morning, the bottle washed up on a distant shore. It stuck in the soft sands, was gently washed by the receding surf, waiting. And then it was picked up, dusted off, and carefully carried home. It held forever an honored place upon the mantel of time, glittering in the firelight, exuding tenderness, and always proclaiming its message.

Class of 2020, we’ve been through a lot. You are groundbreaking in so many ways; your hearts speak loudly and your laughter is contagious. I hope to see many of you again in the future, to hear your stories, to enjoy your company. The time we spent together is past, but our remembrances we can carry with us. So whatever storms threaten to dash you against the rocks, whatever waves carry you across the seas, whatever shores you may land on, know that you are loved, appreciated, and will be missed. Remember: your message is important, share your tenderness, and you are the fire.

Sincerely from a teacher,
Jens Hieber