The Class of Coronavirus

Our teens need us right now. And we need them.

A black and white picture of three high school grads walking down the school hallway wearing their grad gowns.
Photo: Kimberly Everett/Flickr

Remember your senior year? The very real feelings of excitement and possibility and nerves? Now, throw a pandemic on that.

Imagine: No prom. No senior trip. No graduation. These are just a few of the things the class of 2020 is facing with the onset of Covid-19.

There are a lot of horrible aspects to coronavirus, from the loss of life to the suffering of those with the illness, from the stresses of quarantine to the economic impact we’re all facing. But this one’s for the kids. Specifically, the young adults who make up the class of 2020. These are the same kids who were born just after 9/11. The ones who came fresh into a world turned upside down before they even had a chance to get to know it. My daughter happens to be one of them.

She and her peers have already faced a high school experience unlike most others before them: school shootings, emergency drills, social media pressures, climate change, terrorism, teen suicide, and being forced to advocate for solutions to the issues their generation is facing — all while trying to navigate dating, friendships, tests, college prep, and an unseen future. These kids are stressed in ways I never was, and I’m only 17 years older than my daughter. Even as a teen mom who did miss out on prom and graduation and all the rest, I cannot directly relate to many of the situations my daughter faces.

But even in this new reality, kids hang on to classic high-school milestones. For my daughter, one of them was a senior-year band trip to Germany (a trip I spent four years paying off as a single mom). She’s been planning and daydreaming about it since before her freshman year even began.

Then Covid-19 reached our home state of Colorado.

On Monday, March 9, her school district understandably announced that all out-of-state and international school-sponsored trips would be canceled “out of an abundance of caution” — the catchphrase of the week. Naturally, this led to tears and disappointment.

I took her out to The Saucy Noodle in Denver — a local, old-school red sauce joint — for a serious dose of comfort food. We found other things to laugh about over chicken parm, garlic bread, and tiramisu, but the disappointment weighed heavily.

Cut to Wednesday, March 11. The CDC officially declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Trump issued the European travel ban. And now, even more of those high-school senior milestones, the same ones I’d missed as a teen mom and was so excited for my daughter to experience, are no longer a sure thing.

On Thursday, March 12, we received an email from her school district: all school activities and athletics were suspended. For my daughter, this means no track practice with her teammates and no weekend meets. The sense of camaraderie and accomplishment that she, and all kids in school sports, yearn for has been taken away. A few hours later, it was official: school is cancelled for at least two weeks.

Next on the line is prom, which she bought a dress for months ago. And graduation, which her grandmother is (hopefully) flying in from Florida to attend.

As a society, we often belittle the feelings of teens. It’s easy to write them off as “hormones” or “immaturity.” On the other hand, we may think of the modern teen as being so informed and aware that these losses won’t impact them. They are the generation making waves on the world stage, after all. They are strong, intelligent, and resilient. But their personal disappointment is real, no matter how woke or wise or angsty or hormonal you may think they are.

Truly listen. Don’t belittle. Don’t ignore. Don’t argue.

To my peers — the parents, teachers, family friends, and adult role models in these kids lives:

As we’re all glued to the news, caught up in arguments about politics, and stressing about how this is going to play out in our jobs, our bank accounts, and our health, remember to give a little extra love and attention to the class of 2020. Ask them how they’re doing. Truly listen. Don’t belittle. Don’t ignore. Don’t argue. And then take them out for pasta. Let’s do what we can to send the first high-school graduates of this new decade out into the world with our support. Because they need it right now.

And to my daughter and her peers, the high school class of 2020:

I, as one 35-year-old grown-up teen mom, am with you. I feel your disappointment, I feel your losses. I empathize with your sense of being forgotten. And I know you must have anger about being, frankly, screwed over by circumstance right now. Some of you may think you can’t complain because “there are bigger problems in the world,” or because it seems selfish, or because the conveniences of modern life mean quite a few things are easier for you than they were for generations before.

But as I told my daughter, “feel all the feels.” Support each other. Talk — to each other and the adults in your lives. Tell us how to help. Share your feelings and do what you can to turn them into positive ones. Because, as I also told my daughter, and do often, “You’ve got this.” You’ve got perspective and strength that will — that must — shape the future. This world, as unfair as it can sometimes be, needs you.

The coronavirus outbreak is rapidly evolving. To stay informed, check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as your local health department for updates. If you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed, reach out to the Crisis Text Line.

Follow me @mollydbu on Instagram (for all the food) and Twitter (for all the thoughts). Wilmington, Vermont -> Gainesville, FL ->Denver, CO.

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