By SERENA KLEIN ’20
Yesterday, I, along with my other senior friends recorded our virtual graduation over a Zoom call. Of all the sentences I thought I would ever write, this was certainly not one of them. And if you had asked me what I thought of the idea of virtual graduation back in March, when quarantine first started, I would have either laughed in your face or started crying. Both of those options seem perfectly plausible now, too, but the situation itself does not seem so unrealistic.
There were so many things we were looking forward to this year: school plays, prom, graduation, amongst other events. Enough to make a list, and I did. Again, if you had asked me my view on the possibility of and eventual cancellation of these events and milestones, I probably would have shared a “woe is me” tale that only other seniors can truly empathize with. Now, though, as I sit at my desk typing this essay, I know that I can’t take away the hurt that was caused by losing these events, but I have to realize how lucky I am. I remind myself everyday that my family is healthy, my friends are healthy, I am healthy. I can take this time away from the stresses of school and work and any other worry high school kids face and look at the flowers grow, read bigger books that I never had the time for, get back into hobbies I haven’t touched since middle school because there was always some other matter more pressing to attend to. When quarantine started, I felt personally robbed of the precious little time I had to be in high school with teachers and friends I care so much about. I will never again live in this space which allows me to see all of them all day, every day. As angry and hurt and confused as I was, though, I can’t bring myself to feel that way as intensely as I did then. Yes, if I knew that the last day was really going to be the last day, I would have walked by my favorite mural again. Yes, I would have walked down those hallways a little slower. And yes, I would have stopped to see those favorite teachers again. But you never know when the last time is the last time. And I can’t keep blaming myself for trying to take control over things that I never had control over in the first place. It’s really easy to forget that fact. Overall, a lot to process in a short amount of time.
Even though a pandemic and the resulting quarantine is not the way I would have wanted to end my senior year in high school, this experience has been quite the eye-opener. Never ever have I had so much time (and I hope I never have so much time again) to contemplate my life, things I would change, things I wouldn’t. Have you been counting the amount of times I have used the word “I” in this essay? Up to this point: 38 times. Quarantine popped that “all about me” bubble that I, along with others, always seem to be caught up in. Even though I haven’t seen it, there is so much going on beyond the freshly-cut lawn and quiet street. Over 110,000 people have died from COVID-19. Frontline workers are putting themselves at risk of contracting the virus and infecting themselves and their families everyday. Innocent protesters were tear-gassed (which, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, is “outlawed as a method of warfare”) because they fight for equal rights for all, in 2020. And I am worried about the Powder Puff football game and Prom? Ms. Corsun, brilliant and encouraging, in a video to her students, said, “And we’ll, of course, get over these disappointments. It’ll be something we talk to our grandchildren about someday… But George Floyd’s family will never get over its grief.” Those events we looked forward to are (were) important, and of course I wanted them to happen, but I would give those up again and again if it meant that people could be safe from this virus and the systematic racism which prevents them from having the same rights (in practice, not just on paper) as someone like me, and I know from the sheer amount of media I consume on the daily that those beliefs are shared among the greater portion of the younger generation.
Gen Z is the product of change. Nothing ever stays the same for long. Born in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre and 9/11, learning to walk when the country entered war with Iraq, and entering school while the world faced one of the most critical financial crises since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Even though we are the products of turbulent childhoods and adolescence, we are the generation that will change the world, and to me, this has not been more evident than it has been in the past few months. My friends advocate for the seriousness of the virus more than the adults in my life do. Kids with large following on social media use their platforms to spread awareness to worthy causes by sharing knowledge and ways to assist. I have seen more broke college students donate money to Black Lives Matter foundations and funds than people with steady jobs do. Tiktok user @daddydells (104k followers), succinctly sums up this point by acknowledging, “We have, we literally trust Twitter and TikTok to tell us what’s happening in the world,” @daddydells says, “A person will literally say the most, like, horrible thing on the internet and our generation will literally find it, send it to Twitter, find out where you go to school, your address, your full name… Literally obliterate your entire future with fairy emojis.” I am so proud to be a part of this generation, one that takes so much garbage from those older than us, but manages to not only rebut injustice but actively, unflinchingly fight against it. People seem to forget that this generation ate Tide pods and cinnamon for internet challenges. We fear nothing, and will stop at nothing to eradicate the inequality passed onto us by our parents and grandparents.
Those memories we thought we were going to make this year, sure, I wish we got to make them. But we have time to make different memories. Some friends and I are planning a backyard prom for the summer if restrictions get lifted. We want to try to make up for the things we missed so that we can still experience those fun events, even if they won’t be the same as we imagined them to be. There’s just not enough time in our lives to mull over what never was. We’re better served by looking at the present around us and what the future has to offer. So, no, this year didn’t go as I planned or imagined. Not even close. But at this point, I wouldn’t change it.
Once an Eagle, always an Eagle. Fly high, guys.