Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy
Dear High School Class of 2020,
We are writing to tell you that we love you all, we celebrate you all, and we believe in you and your futures.
We believe that you are the songs and prayers of your grandmothers’ and grandfathers’ dreams.
You are the generation to look up to with bountiful hope. We know that you and your families have worked hard to get here. Graduating high school is something to be proud of.
Congratulations, and thank you!
Figuring out what comes next is always an exciting, and sometimes overwhelming, time. Some of you will be off to join the workforce, doing important jobs to keep our communities and the nation functioning, safe, healthy, and vibrant.
Some of you will join the military where you will follow in a legacy for Native peoples that is centuries old.
Some of you will be the first, second, third in your families to enter college.
And some of you are working through what the next steps will be and we understand that there is much to think about. Know that whatever path(s) you take, your beauty and brilliance are spread out across these lands and you are as distinctive as your tribal nations and communities.
You were all born in the wake of—the days and months before and after—September 11, 2001. 9/11. You came into this world in the midst of dramatic change and upheaval; the country has been at war since. It’s been at war for a long time and you are experiencing how history shapes the present.
And now, you graduate and move into adulthood in the midst of what appears to be the greatest pandemic event in the last 100 years.
We know that some of you are caring for sick loved ones and worrying about the safety of our communities and especially our elders. Some of you are mourning those that have passed on recently, whether COVID-19 related or not.
As we all grapple with the pandemic, we recognize that you will also likely not experience your senior prom, spring athletic events, chess tournaments, science fairs, or graduation in the ways that those before you did.
You will likely not have the opportunity to share in the last moments of being a teenager with your high school friends before you go off into the world and start the process of #Adulting. We wish that you could be with your friends and classmates as you did before the world changed. But you will not. We weep for and with you. Part of this letter is to acknowledge that this is different, this feels overwhelming, this is real, and this is something that many of us have not experienced.
We hold these realities in our hearts. We hold you. We also want to remind you that you are from descendants whose teachings will never die; they live in you. Teachings that tell us we belong, we are loved, and we are strong. Your original relations emerged from the earth, the waters (rivers and oceans), from the skies, and from other places.
Our ancestors were, quite literally, rooted in these lands and have been in relations to us, each other, and Creator, ever since. Their wisdom and power has been passed down for generations; and, it has been done so with love and care. You are the beneficiaries of that. How cool, to be the descendants of the original inhabitants of this land. And, that will never, ever change. Life-affirming teachings that can ignite energy and agency in us when the world around us may be trying to pull us down.
Now, more than ever, we ask that you continue to be resilient, like your ancestors who believed in our futures and did what they needed to do so we could be here. How might we all honor them in this moment of time?
There are other ways of seeing what is unfolding right now beyond the health crisis. In this time of slowing, how might we dream of and reach for the next world - the world we want? We might come to see that we are all alive during something that has never happened.
A time in which the world has paused and is experiencing something collectively.
A time in which the earth is getting a respite she so desperately needs. When the pandemic is over - what lives will we choose?
We ask that you remain focused on the future, and strive to make it better.
We ask that you help where and when you can.
We ask that you keep dancing, praying, drawing, playing, and laughing.
We ask that you keep the faith and love for each other and to also love yourself in all the beauty that you are.
And, we ask for your forgiveness as we continue to do our best and address the challenges in front of us, while recognizing that many of you are helping and looking to us in this work. We need you with us and in many respects, we pray that you go further.
We celebrate you because you have an opportunity to do great things. To be engaged and to help define your futures. You can do that by showing love and respect to yourself and others everyday. You can do that through service. You can do it by voting. You can do it by being present. You can do it by being—and remaining—vocal. You can do it by listening. You will succeed at it by being in good relation to each other, to the natural world around you, and to the possibilities of what you, working with others, might create for our communities: applying those teachings that have been passed on to you.
We believe in you to lead and guide us. Congratulations on this heartfelt and joyous achievement. Celebrate loudly and with pride. Find ways to cultivate a community that upholds “physical distancing” but that centers connection and relationships. We may be physically distant from others for a brief time, but that does not take away the deep gratitude, love, and excitement that we share with others and this beautiful and fascinating world. We are so proud of you!
In commemorating as a community, we invite you to join in the Class of 2020 Native Graduates virtual campaign by sharing and being in celebration with Native graduates throughout the world. Virtually celebrate your journey and post encouraging words to your fellow graduates by using the hashtags #2020NativeGrad and #dearNativeGraduates. Let’s do our best to uplift and spread the love for each other.
With love, warmth, and affection.
Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy