As soon as the first school in my city closed thanks to coronavirus, my Instagram feed started blowing up with private posts about how pointless it feels to be a high school senior right now: even if you were privileged enough to not be directly touched by COVID-19, you were still experiencing senioritis alongside unprecedented online classes, creating a lack of motivation so strong that homework took a backseat to TikTok and a screwed-up sleep schedule. Isolation only added to this: as much as you tried to keep in touch with everyone, it was difficult to maintain those tertiary friendships; communication with anyone below “best friends” became super draining and what you missed most about school. The self-care practices that used to work for us in our high-octane worlds—TikTok, Netflix, napping, introversion—now feel like they’re hurting more than they’re helping. Young people are lonely.
Egos grow in crisis as a way of self-preservation. It’s a coping mechanism. Disconnecting ourselves from bigger problems and placing our focus on the loss of surface-level things feels easier. It’s the same as putting “take a shower” on your to-do list; it feels better to focus on smaller problems. Working through the bigger stuff can wait until tomorrow, until the stay-at-home orders are over, until you get through the week, until finals are finished.
Wherever you come from, however old you are, we’re collectively united in a feeling of distress. There aren’t answers for this grief right now. We can all identify with obsessively checking for news updates and commissioning handmade masks from our friends. The little glimpses of “normalcy” we find in Zoom calls and drive-by birthdays are a luxury, but as much as we can block our days into routines, we can’t fully separate ourselves from what’s going on outside of our quarantined homes. Community engagement is just as crucial as self-sanity.
There’s something to be said for what the class of 2020 specifically is dealing with. Given the circumstances, it makes perfect sense that we’re experiencing a uniquely complex, guilt-ridden sadness.
The cancellations of classic end-of-senior-year activities has changed a lot of our expectations. Prom, graduation, and other high-school traditions are physical manifestations of our nostalgia: they’re times when we allow ourselves to feel the true sense of loss that comes with changing stages in our lives. But when we as a society are experiencing a much deeper sense of loss, priorities rearrange. We aren’t old enough to be working in hospitals or heading testing facilities, and we aren’t young enough to be misunderstanding and willfully ignorant of the weight of this situation. We’re right on the edge of being able to actively help out, leaving us stuck in a middle-ground of feeling helpless and overly aware.
But our class also represents a group of trailblazers. The graduating seniors of 2020 had just begun freshman year during the 2016 presidential election. We were the students that led and organized the National School Walkouts in 2018. Many of us voted for the first time in the 2020 primaries and will vote in the election this fall. We’ve never sat on the bench when it comes to contributing to global conversations; we’re experienced in stepping up and leading the conversations in our own communities. Now’s the time to call upon those leadership abilities again—the world needs our contributions.
Every member of the class of 2020 and beyond has the ability to help carry the burdens being pressed upon our world. How we choose to contribute to our communities right now will act as the blueprint for the next generation—really, we have a more important role than we think we do. By actively working to build a culture of selflessness during this pandemic, we’re doing valuable work for the world long-term, setting a precedent for what it truly means to be an engaged citizen, community member, and friend in a post-COVID society.