Over the past century, the United States of America has faced numerous world-changing, generation-defining events. Each generation, it seems, has experienced one or more events that have radically changed the world and undermined their sense of normalcy.
Throughout the 20th century, the United States went from a rising imperial force to a global superpower, surviving cataclysmic events like World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. Baby Boomers lived through the assassination of JFK and the Cold War. Millennials watched the world fundamentally change in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Great Recession.
Right now, Generation Z is undergoing that “once-in-a-generation” event, something that will forever change the way they live their lives. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic may not be as lethal to members of this young generation, but it will undoubtedly change the world they live in and remain in their memories throughout the course of their lives.
Members of Generation Z were born between the years of 1997 and 2012. Very few were alive to remember the trauma and immediate aftermath of 9/11. Instead, they have grown up in a more secure nation, known almost constant surveillance, and shudder at the thought of boarding an airplane without first passing through a metal detector. Years from now, new norms will undoubtedly exist in society directly stemming from this pandemic.
“I think [COVID-19] is going to change the way we do a lot of things,” says history teacher Rachel Clements. “It seems weird, but I think this is like September 11th for [Generation Z]. I remember on September 12th my professor saying everything is going to be different, and in many ways, it is. I think this pandemic is going to have the same effect. I think it is going to impact the way our society is organized as a whole, how our medical system is structured, and how our governments respond to crises. And much like September 11th, I think people are going to reflect on how scary and sad a time this is but also feel hopeful for how people are coming together and supporting one another.”
Already, COVID-19 is impacting the youngest generation by shuttering schoolhouses, canceling graduations, and keeping them out of restaurants, movie theaters, and sporting arenas. According to UNESCO, over 90% of the global student population is at home right now in more than 185 countries. Online communication apps like Zoom have moved to the forefront in the lives of students. Communication between CHS students and teachers is now limited to emails and Zoom conference calls. Pass-or-fail grading systems have been implemented and universities have modified their requirements, with many going standardized test-optional to accommodate applicants in the near future.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. With movie theaters closed, people are turning to online sources of entertainment: Netflix subscriptions have ballooned since the beginning of the lockdown. With musicians forced to postpone tour dates, fans of superstars like Travis Scott are tuning in to their live shows on platforms like Fortnite. In the short-term, at least, words like “quarantine” and “social distancing” will be burned into the vocabularies of the global population. When the lockdown finally comes to an end and a vaccine is developed, public health and cleanliness will be valued much more. Perhaps in the future, people will be required to have their temperatures checked before boarding a flight. Perhaps the world will truly move towards an entirely digital landscape, with face-to-face interactions drastically reduced to prevent the spread of germs. Whatever these changes may be, generations born after this pandemic will not think twice about these restrictions, restrictions that feel draconian to people today. They will simply read about the pandemic of 2020 in class; their biggest concern about the whole ordeal will be memorizing a name like Anthony Fauci prior to a history test.
Sadly, none of that matters right now. Right now, people around the world do not know how the rest of the day will turn out, let alone years from now. Millions of Americans have become unemployed and the economic downturn caused by the pandemic could be worse than the Great Depression. Maybe people will take solace in knowing that they are not alone. The lingering fear, unease, and tragedy are fresh in everyone’s minds. But this is not the first major crisis that the United States or the world has faced and it most certainly will not be the last. After every major global event, whether it is a war or pandemic, nations come together to find ways to prevent it from happening again. It is why there has not been a World War since 1945. New norms are established, daily routines resume, and life regains its refreshing predictability.
“There is definitely going to be a greater sense of gratitude when we’re back with [our friends],” says CHS junior Kyle McGuire. “People are going to look back on how hard a time this was for everybody and how it brought about a lot of struggle. As long as people remember [what we went through], we’ll be more grateful for everything that comes after.”
The post-COVID world will be very different. Regardless of what these changes are, regardless of how the world ends up, hopefully, world leaders and citizens will come together to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.