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Chris O’Riley
Parenting

Coronavirus And The Class Of 2020

When there's no prom, no graduation — no milestones.

Most people remember their senior year of high school as a series of milestones: college acceptance letters, a senior trip, a final game, prom, graduation. I had my daughter when I was 17, so I missed those milestones and instead spent my senior year figuring out how to raise a baby.

Now, my daughter is 17. She’s a high school senior in Littleton, Colorado, with those quintessential milestones within reach. She was accepted into her first choice for college, got her passport in preparation for a band trip to Germany, found her dream dress for prom, and ordered her cap and gown for graduation. Then Colorado announced its first case of COVID-19, and suddenly these memorable moments — the ones I’d missed as a teen mom and was so excited for my daughter to experience — were not a sure thing.

A few days after COVID-19 arrived in our state, the 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 moment. The Germany trip was off. Naturally, this led to tears and disappointment. I took my daughter out to The Saucy Noodle, a local Italian joint, for a serious dose of comfort food, and we found other things to laugh about over chicken parm, garlic bread and tiramisu.

Three days later, on Thursday, March 12, it was announced that all school activities and athletics were suspended. No track practice with her teammates. No weekend meets spent in the sun. And a few hours after that, classes were suspended, too.

My daughter and her peers already have 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 be advocates for the issues their generation has faced. This is all while still trying to navigate dating, friendships, tests and college prep. Now add a pandemic to that.

Everyone is facing their own personal losses and struggles in relation to COVID-19 right now. It’s easy to get caught up in your own perspective as we face an unprecedented situation that’s changing by the minute. But the impact this is having on the class of 2020 is a reminder that empathy is more important than ever right now.

As a society, we often belittle the feelings of teens. It's easy to write things off as "hormones" or "immaturity." On the other hand, we may think of the modern teen as being so informed and aware of the bigger picture that we believe these losses won’t impact them. They are the generation making waves on the world stage, after all. They are strong, intelligent and resilient. They know there are bigger problems in the world than missing prom, right?

Maybe, but their personal disappointment is real, too, no matter how woke or wise or hormonal or full of angst you may think they are.

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. Sit down over pasta and ask them how they’re doing. Then really listen to their answers.

Let's do what we can to send the first high school graduates of the new decade out into the world with support. Because they need it right now, and we need them. They have perspective and strength that will — that must — shape the future.

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