Are you Listening to me? How often in the last 18 years has every high school graduate heard those words? Parents, teachers, siblings, friends . . . the list goes on. But, all too often, we are too distracted to really listen. Hearing is the physical ability to detect noise; whereas, listening involves mental processing, taking in information and making sense out it. It is the same with our ability, or inability, to see. Seeing is a physical ability of those who have been blessed with eyesight. Vision is the ability to give heart and mind to one’s dreams and aspirations. A person may need glasses or contacts, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t vision.

Being part of the Class of 2020 has become quite the unique designation! Most students have less than 20/20 eyesight, and that’s okay. But what about 20/20 vision? Helen Keller, deaf and blind from birth, said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” As we graduate, Class of 2020, let us pause to ask ourselves, not how are your eyes, but what is your vision?

Born into the 21st century, the Class of 2020 came into the world on the heels of 911. The vision of a peaceful America was shattered when the Twin Towers became rubble in the aftermath of a homeland terrorist attack. Now on the verge of leaving adolescence, our world is in the midst of a pandemic that has suspended normal rites of passage like prom, senior skip and prank days, Starbuck’s study dates, and, now, graduation ceremonies. We also find ourselves living in a time of civil unrest and tragedy. Instead of senior fun, we are witness to destruction, disillusionment, and even death. More than anything, I choose to believe that all these attacks have brought out and will continue to bring out some amazing characteristics of the human spirit. My eyes have become opened to new possibilities and, perhaps, we can all see more clearly where we need to go and what we need to do. Heroes were born during 911. A new group of heroes have emerged and are keeping America going during the unknowns of a virus outbreak. As a newly minted adult, I choose to listen to dialog, not look away at things that are uncomfortable, and learn how we all have the power to be heroes and create positive change for every person regardless of race, nationality, or gender.

All people with vision and foresight anticipate needs and are simply available; they are the visionaries. People with vision all have something they truly believe they can make better. We can all be visionaries. We all must be visionaries. But to do so means we have to be willing to look ahead and not accept the way things are. Many times, like now, we are in a situation that we did not choose, but we CAN choose to work at making life better. All tragedies can be turned into a movement that sparks hope for others, even in the darkest situations. In my own 18 years I have faced life-altering, spirit-crushing tragedy; I remain determined to use the vision in my heart to make it better.

What visions does the Class of 2020 have? Each graduate has a unique perspective according to interests, backgrounds, talents, and abilities. As teenagers, we often hear that temporary interests are often driven by self-gratification and indulgence only in the here and now. Once we leave high school, the security of our families, and the companionship of old friends, is it possible to be true to a worthy purpose?

Think of those who can discover the secret of the stars, sail unchartered waters, and open doorways to the human spirit. It’s been done before and we can do it too. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was his vision for an integrated America. John Lennon’s “imagine” was his vision of world peace. Even the Bible states, “Where there is no vision, people perish.” We leave high school with more than book smarts; we have knowledge and knowledge is love, light, and vision. We just need to use it.

As the Class of 2020 leaves high school to pursue jobs, military service, or higher education, and eventually marriage, children, career aspirations, or even space, the visions we have for ourselves have to be true to our experiences and our inner feelings. Whether personal talents are many and varied, or focused and singular, we need to pursue them with creativity, resolve, innovation, and hope. Steve Jobs has touched all of us with his computer technology. And Mark Zuckerberg has turned his vision of friendship into Facebook. Now, I know I won’t be a gazillionaire, but I do know that all of us, myself included, will find a purposeful and meaningful way to put our talents and abilities to work for us, driven by overcoming obstacles and envisioning a future where our dreams and hopes are not just dreams, but realities. Whatever each graduate chooses to do when leaving high school, I hope none of us lose our vision for what is possible and the dreams we have for ourselves as well as our friends, family, loved ones, and future co-workers, neighbors, and communities.

I have seen many faces and extraordinary abilities during my school years in Hartland, Wisconsin. I have admired talented musicians, dedicated athletes, focused scholars, and seen my classmates overcome disabilities, setbacks, heartaches, and personal loss. The Class of 2020 has morphed into butterflies who are ready to spread our wings and bring an irreversible breeze of change. We can be the positivity setting off a chain of events and creating meaningful change in the world. We all envision something we believe can be better. We all have a perspective that is worth sharing if we have the forethought to look ahead and anticipate possibility. Let us use our vision for a brighter future by pursuing our dreams, overcoming hardships, bringing hope, and hanging onto visions of a better world.

In 2070, when the Class of 2020 meets for our 50th class reunion, I hope to look back and know that 2020 vision has become a reality. Our sight will surely have changed and we may look different, but our vision should always remain the same . . . full of endless possibilities. As we leave, remember your purpose, your mission. Even Helen Keller, who never saw a written word, or a sunset, or a smile, or the eyes of herself or anyone else, said, “look the world straight in the eye.” Let’s all use our 2020 vision.