But what about our high school seniors???
Will COVID 19 create a nation of teflon teenagers? I'm thinking yes, but in the best way possible. There is no way to estimate the devastation of this pandemic for millions of people so it might seem trite to talk about the hundreds of thousands of high school seniors who watched their last semester - the one where all the hard work comes to fruition - fade away, taking with it the prom, graduation and any sense of closure.
These are significant losses for these students - talk about a let down! Our Generation Z seniors have never known a time when we have not been at war. Born when the events of 9/11 were still vivid in our minds, Generation Z students have come of age with that cloud hanging over their heads. They are different because of it, and now here we are with another earth-shattering event in human history that will forever shape these kids.
Today is a particularly poignant day for many seniors across the country because it is decision day for their prospective college. I'm sure you have seen all the posts on social media with a smiling senior sporting a sweatshirt from their chosen school. Decision day is yet another hallmark of the senior year experience for many students, and even this has a cloud hanging over it: will colleges be open in the fall?
If we could be guaranteed that it was completely safe, EVERY college would fling open the doors to incoming freshman in August. Sadly, we just don't know and these same seniors who are mourning so many losses, can't even look to the future with any kind of certainty. All of this just stinks for them.
Then again, haven't they been amazing? First, they are finishing their schoolwork despite what we used to call "senioritus" - aka a profound lack of motivation. They are doing their work remotely, which is even harder. They are supporting each other every single day, and using those damn phones for all the right reasons - staying in touch with each other, checking on each other, sharing humor, disappointment and hope. These kids are piling into cars and driving by their classmate's houses for birthdays, beeping their horns and doing the best they can to make their friends feel special.
They have study groups, sleepovers and watch their favorite shows "together" but apart. It's pretty amazing to see, and I often think of how dismal this would have been when I was young, with one sticky beige phone in the kitchen shared by 2 adults and 6 kids - you know the one with the spiral cord stretched to the breaking point as you attempted to get ANY kind of privacy when you talked to your friends? The one that your parent could pick up from another extension to basically tell you your time was up? No matter what we feel about the evils of social media, it's helping our kids navigate a life we never could have imagined.
The silver lining in the COVID cloud is NOT something any high school senior wants to hear right now. Proceed at your own risk if you try to tell them this is actually good for them! Now they need us to have empathy and commiserate with them. Now we need to say, "You're right. It is unfair! It is hard! I'm so sorry you are stuck in this limbo when you should be celebrating all your accomplishments!" We need to wrap them up like we did when they were babies, swaddling them with empathy by putting ourselves in their shoes. The worst thing we can say is that everything will turn out alright, because Gen Zers aren't buying it. They know too much.
Nevertheless, we need to file this away and share it down the road when the wounds are not so fresh: living through this pandemic provides an invaluable life lesson. It is through adversity that we grow. It is through loss that we come to appreciate all that we have. The difficult times we survive are the ones we look back at with pride. COVID19 is making our kids really strong. It is shaping who they are and changing them in ways we cannot even imagine.
Time will tell, as it always does, but I foresee great things ahead for this Class of 2020. All the things we know they need to be successful in life - resilience, compassion, grit, optimism, delaying gratification - are growing in them right this minute. They will never look at adversity in the same way again, and they will be able to tolerate the tough times better than their predecessors, and they will rise above the challenges that might have otherwise knocked them down. The normal life lessons we have all experienced - a broken heart, losing a job, failing a class - will all be cast in a different light for these students.
Personally, I can't wait to see what they do...