When I was a preteen, I marveled at my older cousin’s high school graduation photo on display on my grandparents’ end table in their living room. I imagined what it would feel like to don a cap and gown and accept my diploma in front of family, friends, and teachers. But, three weeks after I started ninth grade, my high school career took an abrupt turn when I got Lyme disease. It launched me into a lengthy period of very serious chronic illness — despite seeing innumerable doctors and trying endless treatments. Any sense of normalcy was paused for over 10 years. I didn’t return to a classroom in person until college.
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Because I was tutored at home and didn’t finish at the same time as my class, I didn’t have the opportunity to attend a prom or graduation ceremony. I even watched commencement from my laptop while laying on my bed.
Despite my plans continually being curtailed, I realized that life passes quickly, and it felt important for my emotional well-being to find ways to commemorate the special moments in my life in my own ways. It occurred to me that I could either be sad about what I had missed or I could find happiness despite my circumstances.
I completed my master’s degree in January, and this year, like many graduates, I won’t be walking across a stage to receive a diploma for a hard-earned degree due to COVID-19. But, if I’ve learned anything from missing out on traditional celebrations in my earlier life, it’s how to adapt. That’s why I am choosing instead to mark the occasion privately in a way that is meaningful to me.
When things don’t go as hoped or planned, it is still possible to find joy in celebrating important milestones — even if the way you do it is a little different. Here are a few tips:
Write about your experience in a journal
While I don’t write in a diary on a daily basis, I have kept journals off and on since I was a teenager. Knowing that I am writing something that only I will read gives me a sense of freedom. Writing about meaningful experiences allows me not only to capture a moment in time, but also to revisit the pages months or years later. I always think that I’ll remember every detail about an experience, but that never turns out to be the case — we’re always making new memories that push aside the old. I’m grateful when I can revisit special moments — if only through the page.
Celebrate with loved ones — remotely
While I was growing up, my extended family got together whenever there was a birthday — it was a good excuse to see relatives. Milestones big or small offer a reason to gather together and celebrate not only an event, but each other.
But, there also were times when either distance or health reasons made it unsafe for me to be with others in person. I developed immune system issues as well as serious allergies and sensitivities and it was risky for me to be in close proximity with a group of people. Though the circumstances were different, the coronavirus is bringing similar restrictions to today’s celebrations. Fortunately, technology offers more alternatives for connecting remotely — Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and FaceTime all can facilitate virtual gatherings with speed and ease — and at no risk to your health.
Make a special purchase
Souvenirs are not only for trips. When I graduated from college, I purchased a necklace with a small silver pendant of a flower that was handcrafted by someone I grew up with. It reminded me of the ways my life had blossomed as a result of my efforts. In addition to wanting to support a friend’s small business, I wanted something that I could treasure and hold on to as a lasting memento. By opting for something of timeless beauty, it would remind me of the event — and the hard work that it took to achieve my degree. Little treasures don’t have to be expensive — they just have to mean something to you.
Plan a trip
When I recovered from my lengthy, serious illness, one of the first things I did was take a trip. I longed for a change of scenery and to have fun. I visited friends in Los Angeles and went to concerts. I was celebrating a return to health, to life, to normalcy. There had been a time when I didn’t know if any of those things would be possible for me again. Sometimes, a seemingly typical event like taking a trip carries a deeper weight if there is a special reason behind the journey.
No matter how you celebrate, it is important to commemorate significant occasions. They separate special moments from ordinary days and they remind us that our lives are worth celebrating.