Today’s college students are the coronavirus generation


Image courtesy of Mohamed Hassan

Our parents grew up in a relatively stable world, taught by their parents that the path to success is finishing high school, getting a well-paying job that offers a lifelong career, getting married and having two kids. While many of us are still implicitly held to these values, our personal experience has not reflected this stable, domestic idyll. 

Our earliest memories of technology include dialup internet and Nokia brick phones. We have evolved alongside the digital revolution, our identities forged by the accelerating world around us.

Since elementary school, we have known that our slowly warming earth will eventually be incompatible with human life. Through middle school, we learned how to locate books in the library, but by high school the library had been replaced with tech department offices and personal laptops. The hours we were forced to spend mastering encyclopedia navigation, cursive writing and handwritten citations have proven useless.

That constant lie — “You’ll use this when you’re older” — narrated our development, as time and time again adults incorrectly assured us that the world will still reflect their antiquated values and experiences when we are the ones in charge. 

We have reached the dawn of our adulthood, and the seeds of chaos planted long before our conception have matured alongside us and begun to blossom. Record-breaking wildfires and hurricanes ominously illustrate the consequences of climate change. Racial tensions have surged to the forefront as the dam of willful ignorance breaks under the pressure of decades of injustice. Presidential decrees are announced via Twitter, and the smartphones once confiscated as “distractions” are now essential to everyday academic and professional life.

The coronavirus generation is no stranger to false promises, new normals and grim futures. We have only known the world to be unstable and unfair. The pandemic plunged the planet into pandemonium and in a matter of weeks, our generation surrendered our social world, our independence, our semesters abroad and our dreams. We were forced to move back in with parents — cruelly evicted from the lives we had built.

And yet again, we adapted quickly. We collectively accepted that the world has fundamentally changed and will never return to the life we once knew. Heartbreaking? Yes. But it is a pill we have swallowed many times before. Zoom-based learning is merely the next iteration in the complete restructuring of education that occurred as we progressed through school. We may not enjoy change, but it is all we have ever known.

For better or for worse, the college students of coronavirus America have matured into a new kind of adult. We are a distinct cohort forged from a fragmented society, adept at adaptation, and blessed with a unique appreciation for the present in a world where the future is always uncertain.

We are problem solvers — the perpetual beta-testers of new forms of education and technology.

We are optimists — knowing only uncertainty, we’ve learned to appreciate the beauty of the present.

We are dreamers — despite impending doom, we still strive towards a successful future.

We are global thinkers — connected to worldwide news and social networks, our investment in the digital world far outweighs our pride in national identity.

We are groundbreakers — determined to change course from the destructive cycles of history and ensure we create a better world for our children than the one we inherited. 

We are the coronavirus generation, and we are uniquely qualified to face this moment.