Dear Fremont NE Graduating Seniors

An Open Letter to Fremont, NE Graduating Seniors

(with suggested points of reflection for Senator Ben Sasse)

Camie NitzelDear Seniors,

Because a woman close to me moved to your town, I’ve been closely observing Fremont the last few years. After all you’ve been through, you deserve commencement remarks that recognize your collective resilience. You’ve shown the capacity to endure, even in the face of multiple, nationally-publicized community traumas.

Allow me to reflect for you what I’ve observed, because it seems like others have missed the mark and have not really seen you.

In the midst of becoming who you are as individuals, with all the internal exploration, angst, and contemplation that journey requires, your junior and senior years have been unprecedented in what you’ve had to endure.  

You were among the communities hardest hit by the flooding last year. Many of you were displaced, lost homes, belongings, and faced frightening economic uncertainty. You took on extra responsibilities just to keep your families functioning and fed.

  • Though you were tired, you survived.

You endured Immigration Raids that endangered the lives and well-being of your families and loved ones. I know there are parents and family members not with you today. I also know, beyond any doubt, that they are so very proud of you.

  • Though your hearts ache, you survived.

Some of you faced nationwide humiliation when you appeared in the national news for the blatantly racist behaviors of your peers. I am certain the actions and inactions of a few do not represent the best in any of you. I know you were disappointed in your administration’s refusal to lead you on a path toward racial justice and healing.

  • Though you were ashamed, you survived.

And now, because of the meat-packing industry in your town, Fremont is experiencing high rates of COVID-19. The health of families is in jeopardy. Your social lives, romantic lives, college planning, and long-anticipated rituals have been thwarted. Your economic futures are uncertain.

  • Though you are disappointed and scared about what the future holds, you survive, again, still.  

Within the span of the last 18 months, every one of you has been impacted by these crises. Your lives have been touched personally and vicariously through the suffering of your friends, relatives, teachers, coaches, church leaders, or mentors. Despite multiple events that could have derailed you from graduation, here you are. You have survived it all. That, my friends, is worthy of pride and celebration. Your very survival under such challenging circumstances, let alone the completion of your graduation requirements, warrants praise, respect, and expressions of admiration.

What you have accomplished individually and collectively is ample evidence that you already carry within you everything that you need in order to pursue whatever greatness is stirring inside. If you hold onto anything from your graduation ritual and remarks, please remember these truths.

  • When you are tired, persevere. Do the extra work that’s needed. You will survive, and eventually thrive.
  • When your heart aches, self-soothe and seek comfort from those you love. Pursue mental health care (stigma lies only with the ignorant). Challenge the laws and change the systems that breed inequalities. Vote. You will survive, and eventually thrive.
  • When you feel ashamed, speak up. Amplify and affirm the voices of the marginalized – and demand that your leaders are educated and brave enough to challenge oppression. Shame dies if you speak it out, and your speaking helps everyone thrive. Vote.
  • And when you are uncertain about the future, remain open to possibilities and create your way to a plan. Despite recent insinuations to the contrary, you are an industrious group. More than many other seniors graduating this year, you can honestly say that you have always found a way.

So now it’s time for you to find your own way once again. If your way happens to be a career in psychology, look me up in a decade. I’ll still be a Licensed Psychologist in private practice, helping people remember the parts of their lives that were instrumental in shaping who they are, coping with the traumas they have endured, and crafting lives that are rich with meaning and integrity.

I submit this letter with pride, admiration, and respect for each and every one of you.

Camie Nitzel, PhD

Licensed Psychologist #956

Founder, Kindred Psychology