Guest columns share an author’s personal perspective.
We were born into the tragedy that was Sept. 11, 2001.
My mother held me in her arms at just hours old and looked on as bodies were pulled from the rubble, wondering what was to become of the world she had just welcomed me into. She tried to calm my worries as police hunted for the egregious Boston Marathon bombers. She watched my brother score points at his basketball game just hours after the fatal shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She experienced the same adversity, and cried for the same losses, but also for the future.
Assuredly, that very future has arrived — for all of us. It has arrived with more loss, uncertainty and ambivalence. Our future has snuck in behind us in the middle of a pandemic, stealing away both endings and beginnings; we are being thrown into a world where, it seems, everything is falling apart in the same sense that it was when we came into it. Yet, little did we know, we were ready for this all along. We have been ready for the world, and now hopefully, a significant amount more.
I, along with many other seniors, am stuck between a state of personal and situational forfeiture. Not only have we been robbed of the traditional celebratory ending to senior year, we are also watching the lives we’ve always known fall away before our eyes, in two different ways. In Oakmont’s little district, most of us have known each other since before we knew how to tie our shoes; we walked the same halls, drove the same streets, and watched as we all grew up, a little bit too fast. You always knew a couple people who lived on the same street as you, and for some reason, you had memorized most of the bus routes. For most, the premature ending of in-person classes in the beginning of March took away the last bit of time we had with the old normal we grew up with.
Initially, we found ourselves variably excited for the few unexpected weeks off from school. Departing from Oakmont on that last day, March 13, I gave my best friend an animated hug while discussing our newest plans over the next few weeks, naively unaware of the fact that it would be the last time I embraced another Spartan inside those green walls. Not too long after, we realized we would become permanent remote learners, and soon-to-be college freshmen or full-time workers. Words lacked enough depth to articulate the regret we felt in taking our school lives for granted.
Additionally, the post-9/11 America we aged in is evolving into a post-COVID-19 world, and that future feels rocky and unclear. We don’t know when we’ll be able to go to the mall, or the beach, or even if we’ll be able to go on-campus at the start of the fall semester. We question the ability to hold a prom or graduation. Not only are we trying to navigate the commencement of this new chapter, we’re watching the world try to navigate itself as well. Many of us are grieving the loss of two former realities, both of which now seem so far away and abstract, with little ground left to plant our feet.
We wonder, as our generation has sometimes been dubbed selfish and narcissistic, if it is even acceptable to express our anguish during a time when a virus is ravaging across the world, thus pushing aside our loss of expectations for a senior year, and the celebration of our lives up to this point. Surely, we are grieving alongside a world that is already hurting, and is in no way a reflection of our stereotype. Our generation has been discredited for our obsessive involvement in technology, but now, ironically so, our techie group has had to manage on our own, with many thriving. Nothing parallels the level of dependence we find ourselves having with the same technology we were demeaned by for using. Classes are completely online, assignments are completely online, and much of the Class of 2020 is continuing to flourish through it all. Would it be a reach to say that stereotype is diminishing, since we have proven our future potential through our past challenges? It is a double-edged sword, as we wish more deeply to honor these footprints we have left behind.
The Class of 2020 has not once failed to rise to the challenge. It has been a privilege to witness fellow young people come together to voice our needs, wants and concerns. People our age have repeatedly broken new ground and opened doors in areas such as school safety, gun control and climate change. Despite the huge losses that have occurred from these issues, we’ve furthermore managed to never settle for violence, and have never been comfortable or insensitive to the innocent loss of lives or injustices around us, which spurred our frustration into organizations, demonstrations, and ultimately, change.
These are the qualities that are going to follow us into this new, and daunting, chapter of our lives. Although nothing seems to be the way anyone ever imagined it could be, we have proven before that we can turn hardship into revolution. Amid the pandemic, we have found ourselves in an intimidating position, during what is already an intimidating time for any high school senior. However, we have proven our hardiness and capability our entire lives, through the tragedies since our birth. We found ourselves having to grow up rather quickly, shedding the youthful naivete, letting us believe the sky was the limit, that nothing was impossible. Nonetheless, we rose. We learned how to analyze every situation, and we creatively maneuvered our way through each new obstacle. We did so in a way that didn’t weaken us into emotionless dwellers. This is what sets the Class of 2020 apart. This is what makes the Class of 2020 so extraordinary. This is why we’re ready to continue making our mark on the new world before us.
On the morning of Thursday, May 14, the seniors of Oakmont were able to pick up yearbooks, caps and gowns from a few faculty members standing outside the school. The ordeal was extremely bittersweet, as students and teachers reunited from a distance, separated by not only masks but the fear of transmitting the invisible virus. I flipped through my yearbook, filled with memories of how life was before, and thought about how I would have changed my blurb if only I had known what adversity lay ahead. I put on my Spartan green cap and gown, the tassel remaining on the right side of the headpiece, the 2020 pendant shining in the sun. Wistfully, I began to imagine walking across the turf on a warm summer day in my gown, swelling with pride, my family and friends looking on from the bleachers. I pictured how I would turn my tassel, signifying my separation from aspirant into graduate.
I pulled away from my high school that day with a knot in my gut, and watched as the familiar dome of the auditorium faded from my rearview mirror. What wouldn’t fade from that moment, though, was the sense of unity, achievement and optimism for this new reality we would soon be entering, as well as gratitude for the departed reality I was leaving behind in that very rearview mirror.
What we, the Class of 2020, have attained is much more than what we may have lost. How we have chosen to act in the face of adversity speaks volumes about our individual and collective characters. How we push nearly every boundary set before us, raise every bar, and innovatively overcome despite what we have gone through. What we have experienced will not only shape our world, but will make our uncertain future appreciably more rewarding, as we continue to learn better, do better and demand better.
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been told that the Class of 2020 will make history because of the position we’re in, but we know we’re going to make history because of what we have and will continue to accomplish. When the world falls into our hands, we’ll be ready.
Macy Ghilardi is a member of the Oakmont Regional High School Class of 2020.