To the Class of 2020

This article was featured in the online version of the Philadelphia Business Journal on May 11, 2020.

It’s times like these you learn to live again.
It’s times like these you give and give again.
It’s times like these you learn to love again.
It’s times like these time and time again.

– Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters, Times Like These

To the Senior Class of 2020:

This is the only way I know how to how to grab you by the shoulders and tell you that you are destined for greatness – but it’s up to how you choose to live your life in the current abnormal, and especially after.

You have had the rug of all rugs ripped out from under you, and rug was then rolled up and used to beat you up – courtesy of COVID-19. And you can’t land on your feet when things happen that suddenly. You are on your back. And there isn’t confetti landing on you. The only thing you may feel on your face might be your own tears. Those last months of Senior year are the nectar of life and you will never get them back.

I’m going to suggest you get the hell up – and fast. Then use those tears. Use that anger. Use that frustration. But please don’t feel bad for yourself. This is not the first time a generation has suffered such an injustice. But yours is equally as criminal.

Because there was no warning. I’ll bet you didn’t have time to really enjoy what you had. Because you were looking ahead to the “big things” like celebrations and graduations. Your Senior year just…ended.

For High School Seniors, you will not get to pose with your friends and your dates in front of your Mom’s house on prom night. You will not get to throw your cap in the air. There will be no trip to the shore or further South with pals to celebrate the end of the year. For College Seniors, the daily joy and celebration during the last month of school has been replaced with your parents couch. Though I know I’ve referenced the beauty of my walks through Villanova’s campus, there is something that just bruises your heart to look up at windows decorated with fraternity and sorority symbols, fun sayings and drawings. The party ended so quickly, they didn’t have time to take them down.

So now is the time to make the most important decision of your life. Will you wallow or will you win? Whatever you decide to do will define the rest of your life.

It’s so easy to complain. It’s so easy to swim in the nonsense. How many sentences have you started with “I can’t believe…” Welcome to how life really works. You have, in some ways, earned a Masters degree in L-I-F-E. Because life is very, very good at giving you what you just might need, but the medicine may not taste so great. That also means it’s working.

You deserved better. But this is what you got. And what will you do with it? Complain, explain, or go further, do more, sharpen those teeth and live hungry? You have experienced the reality of life – that it can end in a moment with no explanation. You, of all people, should squeeze every last drop out of every day going forward. So dust yourself off. If you’re a Senior in high school, get ready for an amazing next chapter in college. If it doesn’t start on time, deal with it. And if you’re a Senior in college, your professional career awaits. I suggest you base your entire interview around this current abnormal. I also suggest you do what you love and not chase the money train. No amount of money right now can stop the pandemic.

Use this time, leverage this. And never forget it. Go and embrace life like two of my heroes – one fictional the other very, very real. Ferris Bueller and Dave Grohl. I love Ferris because he took an ordinary day and made it a holiday of all holidays. Whereas I don’t recommend stealing a Ferrari regardless of how choice it is, take chances, be bold, maximize every minute, and invite your friends along. While you were looking forward to the “big things” you may have missed the simple fact that every day is a big thing. And why Dave? I’ve seen him six times in concert, and that cat plays and performs like he’ll never get a chance to again. Several years ago, when he fell off the stage and broke his leg badly, he didn’t end that show – or tour. He finished that particular show with the same relentless spirit he always displays. And after he had surgery to repair it, he had a jaw-dropping throne comprised of multiple guitars made. And he sat in that throne in the center of the stage for every show throughout the remainder of the tour. And he never played better, sang louder, or tried harder to kill it, night after night. Where some see obstacles, winners see opportunities.

And a final special note to High School Seniors. You know that sign in your window or front lawn that says Class of 2020 with your High School’s name on it? Once this whole thing is over, take that thing out of the ground, and have it framed. Hang it wherever life takes you. Your college dorm, your first apartment, your future office. Because that’s your real diploma.

The other scroll with the fancy writing? It shows you graduated. But that lawn sign? That sign shows people that you’re hungry, that you can handle anything, and that every day – every single day – you wake up with fire in your heart.

Go get ‘em Tiger.

— Peter Madden, President and CEO of AgileCat