The Next Great GenerationRoundup
tags: college, graduation, COVID-19
JULIAN E. ZELIZER is a history and public-affairs professor at Princeton University. He is the author of the forthcoming book Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.
Back in September, the members of the class of 2020 must have felt all the usual anxieties and hopes that come with the final year of college. Students eagerly prepared for the next stage of their life, whether that meant applying for graduate school or submitting job applications. The nerves about succeeding were softened by the desire to savor the remaining months with good friends and with teachers who’d made a difference. I remember walking on the Princeton campus, eager to meet my new students. Everything seemed normal.
Then the coronavirus swept across the globe, reaching the United States at the start of the new year and gradually bringing the entire nation to a halt. Schools all around the country closed their doors; classes went virtual. Youthful romances were moved online. Best friends were left watching old movies together in chat rooms.
Some contracted the virus, and many others experienced the pain of losing a loved one. All the natural markers of being a senior were gradually canceled or made virtual: senior week, class day, graduation, family celebrations, internships, and much more. Many college seniors are being told that the job they were waiting to start is no longer there.
Young Americans don’t even have the comfort of knowing what comes next. There is no back to normal on the immediate horizon. They can’t have confidence that they will be able to secure good jobs and start families on anything like a typical timetable.
Everyone in the class of 2020 will have stories to tell about dreams that have been stolen forever.
But rather than thinking of what has been taken away, members of the class of 2020 should think of themselves as part of a generation that gave—a generation that sacrificed.
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