BY MOLLY SLOAN
Just like every year, the new year approaching signals the end of the fall semester and the beginning of the holidays, but 2022 will also mark the two-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, it’s been two years since the beginning of an entirely unexpected lifestyle. At Truman, the graduating class of 2022 will be the last to have experienced a regular, uninterrupted school year. Having experienced both versions of high school, these seniors are especially aware of what they might be missing out on. For many, the interruption of their sophomore year completely altered the trajectory of their school career, for better or for worse.
In the pandemic, even something as reliable as the standard school structure changed. Online learning threw students for a loop, and adjusting to a different model was difficult. “It was strange having to turn everything in through Canvas, especially when we had been using Google Classroom for a while,” said senior Vanessa Ramirez. As well as being incredibly confusing, this shift to virtual also marked the start of a lot of bad habits, and Truman’s hybrid schedule wasn’t any help. “I created the habit of completely not doing any work for one week then coming back to school to pressure myself into doing it all,” said senior Alyssa Garciano. “I think I conditioned myself to be able to work under pressure, so my procrastination only got worse.” This procrastination was hardly uncommon; without physically being at school it was almost impossible for students to feel motivated. “If I could change anything in the past two years,” added Ramirez, “I would’ve probably changed my mentality for online school–I kept doing everything on the due date.” And even now that almost everyone is back to school full time, this motivation is still elusive for a lot of students.
It’s more than just academics, though–it’s been especially difficult for these seniors to have the world completely upended during such a formative period in their lives. Normally, teenagers use these years to form important relationships, set future goals, and most importantly, begin to understand themselves. In the pandemic, this all still had to happen but in unprecedented circumstances against a totally new background. Social distancing online school had the effect of isolating almost everyone from their peers, which changed a lot. “I feel like I wasn’t able to join any clubs or after-school activities during my late sophomore and junior year,” said Ramirez. Most sporting events, dances, and club meetings were out of the question, creating a much more detached school environment than ever before. For the most part, these students had to mature on their own terms–but for some, this was a necessary evil. “Honestly, I think I was still able to grow up in quarantine,” said Garciano, “and in a more organic and introspective way than if I was exposed to the world and peer pressure. Without all the distraction from the pre-pandemic world, I got to really sit with myself, something I think that a lot of us subconsciously avoid.”
It’s undeniable that the pandemic has been a life-changing experience for everyone, but these students spent their formative years living completely different lives than people just a few years older than them. Instead of the normal teenage highs and lows, their adolescence has been marked by social distancing, masks, and general isolation from their peers. And by now, a new accepted way of living has been established, but it’s still hard not to wonder what life might have been like if the world had stayed the same. “The pandemic caused me to lose out on summer programs and internships I wanted to do, caused relationships of mine to form and break, and caused me to lose family members,” said Garciano. “[If the pandemic had never happened], I think I wouldn’t have been as outgoing as I am now, to be honest.” This era of turmoil, difficult as it may be, has forced a lot of people to face some harsh realities, but also encouraged them to grow.
This isn’t the only positive thing to come out of the pandemic. It has been a period of major change for almost everyone, but it hasn’t been all bad. “To be honest, I really like the masks! They’re fun,” said Ramirez. Of course, this isn’t a popular opinion, but there are a lot of silver linings, even in such a bleak time. “I don’t want to discount or undermine all the awful things that happened as a result of COVID, but I do think there are plenty of good things that happened,” said Garciano. “For me at least, I got to discover and explore things that interested me at my own pace and by myself, something I couldn’t do with the bustling and judgmental pre-pandemic life I had led.”
This generation is growing up under circumstances that are unlike any before them, and it’s still unclear just what kind of effects they’re really going to have. The high school experience as it was just two years ago is long gone, and soon there will be a group of students who never knew what school was like without COVID precautions in place. “I think the high school experience will never return to how things were our freshman year,” said Ramirez. “However, I do feel like we won’t have to wear these masks within the next two years. Maybe.” It’s these little symbols of progress that keep people going in such unprecedented times–regardless of whether or not things will go back to what was once normal. In the wake of COVID, the youngest generation will continue to grow up, and the world will become a very different place, even in schools. “In twelve years, there will be an entire grade that never went to school during COVID,” said Garciano, “and as the years roll on, there will be teachers who never taught during COVID either.”
The future of this COVID generation is, for the most part, unknown. It’s unclear what effects such unusual circumstances will have on these students in their adult lives, and for right now, it’s difficult to imagine what the world might look like for young children growing up in the wake of such a major pandemic. But despite all the hardships these past two years have caused, the youngest generation has proved itself to be extremely resilient. No matter what might knock them down, they’re able to get back up even stronger than before.