EDITOR’S NOTE: This guest essay is part of an op-ed project from the Mayborn School of Journalism in which students were asked to look back at the pandemic and describe what it was like from their point of view. This is the final student-authored perspective to be published.
In March 2020, students around the world all simultaneously jumped with glee. Was it a Snapchat update? A viral cat video? Perhaps, a shirtless Michael B. Jordan magazine cover?
Unfortunately, none of the above.
Although we were initially excited by the idea, the innocent thoughts of a two-week spring break extension went swirling down the drain when we realized it was a mandatory world shutdown. This brought a whole new meaning to Beyoncé’s “world stop” lyric. If anything, it is safe to say that 2020 was the poster child for a hell-raising year. We were forced to endure a pandemic, racial wars, a painful election and massive forest fires, all within a couple of months — quick enough to make anyone have whiplash. (Oh, and let’s not forget the murder hornets. Feel free to tremble.)
As spring break crept near, students everywhere tied loose ends on assignments and deleted the universally hated Canvas app (temporarily of course) before leaving all responsibilities in the classroom for pool lounging and escaping to the beach for the week. In hindsight, I believe we selfishly took the pandemic as another world’s problem. The news circulated stories of some kid in China eating a bat, and that was all we knew. Reality began to sink in when headlines went from “Coronavirus spreads to East and beyond” to “Coronavirus is headed to the U.S.” Here lies the U.S. unfazed, like the last Cheerio floating around the bowl waiting to be infiltrated by this disease. I think America’s Gen Z thought we could get away with just one more break. One more huge college rave out of our system, and then we’d succumb to a three-month hiatus.
What did this mean for us? When I use the word us, I am speaking for the generation that was born between the years of 1997 and 2012. And the generation that has clearly had the worst luck. For those that did not get the chance to take their crush to prom. For those who worked relentlessly hard for the last four years of high school only for graduation to be ripped away. For those who did not get to experience a college campus in awe of its historical charm and surge from the energetic vibes.
Before I knew it, my life became an endless cycle of Pinterest recipes, TikTok dance challenges and Peloton classes. This new routine was not all negative toward the beginning of quarantine. This time gave me a second to breathe. Before quarantine, my mind and body were always on the go — balancing school, work and attempting to maintain a social life with varying levels of success. When the opportunity to slow down presented itself, I did not know where to start with all of the extra energy I had. However, my heart still ached for face-to-face contact. When the FaceTime calls and texts were no longer satisfying, it felt as if a piece of my heart was being carved out. My parents live only two hours away, and I would normally pack up and go home for the weekend. But when it became a worldwide rule to remain six feet apart, every tap of the “end call” button became an excruciating reminder that I could not see them. Even when the lockdown mandate was lifted in June, the constant fear of catching COVID loomed over every handshake or hug.
For Gen Z, quarantine taught us to find other ways to fill the voids in ourselves and begin focusing on what is really important. Although it was a very trying and troubling experience, it forced us to do new things we might not have tried otherwise. For me, small changes began with eating dinner at the table with my sister and her husband each night. It seems like something so minute, but it became my favorite moment of the day.
I could go on about all of the reasons the pandemic set us back. But among everything that could go wrong, this generation healed impressively fast. As we were hit with everything left and right, Generation Z took every punch with resilience and dignity. Across the workforce, employers should prepare for Gen Z to ambush and prevail at any task given to them. Their eyes and minds are now filled with an unprecedented hunger, always anticipating the next challenge to devour.
So, aside from the Netflix binges and the newfound love for baking, quarantine was not so bad. However, my pants line would disagree. Thank God for tights. Now, go dominate, Generation Z, and as Queen B said, “Carry on.”