When the coronavirus pandemic spread across the country, students were faced with an abrupt shift to remote learning, and for graduating students, there was another disappointing reality: they wouldn't be able to celebrate their accomplishments in traditional ways.
School districts across the country have been forced to get creative — hosting drive-in graduations and organized car parades, where students can drive by as their teachers line up outside to cheer for them. Earlier this month, televised commencement ceremonies for high school and college graduates featured guest speakers like former President Obama and a host of celebrities.
Most of the attention has gone to high school and college seniors, but eighth grade social studies teacher Brian Simmons wanted to try to give his middle school "seniors" a memorable farewell, too. Simmons —who saw more than a dozen Democratic candidates in person throughout the primary cycle — had engaged with elected officials and presidential candidates on Twitter in the past. So, when the school principal asked him to reach out to see if anyone would be interested in sending a message to their students, Simmons didn't hesitate.
As a result, 125 eighth graders at Deer Park Middle School will hear special pre-recorded video messages from former Democratic presidential candidates Tulsi Gabbard and Marianne Williamson during their virtual graduation on Tuesday.
In her message, Gabbard tells Deer Park students that the strength and resilience they're exhibiting during this challenging time will add to the experiences in their life journeys.
"I know there's a lot about the future that seems not in focus right now," said Gabbard in the video message. "But I guarantee you one thing is crystal clear: that the love you have for your families, your friends, your community, for our nation, this will provide that sense of purpose and focus as we look towards that future together…"
Author Marianne Williamson congratulated the students and said that even though things are not happening as they may have expected, connections are being made that otherwise may not have been made.
"The things that I learned when I was your age are the things that…you hear them deeper and they mean something to you," said Williamson in her video message. "I just want to congratulate you because I think it's just so fabulous that you are at this point in your life and really blossoming into the fullness of life as I hope you wish to live it."
Simmons hopes that his students see the messages from Gabbard and Williamson and know that they, too, could be presidential candidates one day and that there are different paths to success.
"Marianne is an author, Tulsi's a congresswoman…you can do all kinds of different things," said Simmons. He added that he wants his students to be resilient during these unprecedented times and to remember to think about service to something greater than themselves.
"When you become an adult, there's going to be all kinds of different things that are thrown your way [and] how you deal with them will really kind of dictate your success level," said Simmons. "Keep yourself busy, keep yourself mentally healthy and just be happy because this will pass and we'll get better, we'll get stronger but for now just stay resilient."