Nearly a decade ago, before I began writing these “Running the Campus” blog posts, I started sending out “Weeklies”; emails to the campus and community that usually included something about what was happening at NECC that week, a perspective on a big issue facing higher education, and a short story about my daughters, who were known, pseudonymously, as “Big Sis T and Little Sis Z.”

Back then, Little Sis Z was only seven, and Big Sis T was eleven.  Some of the first stories I shared were about science fair projects, gymnastics classes, sleepovers, girl scout bug catching expeditions, and panning for gold in the rivers of Maine.

Well, Big Sis is nearly twenty years old now, and will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Music Business and Industry (with a concentration in Audio Engineering) from Northern Vermont University this spring and starting graduate studies at Northeastern; and Little Sis is sophomore class president at her high school, taking Early College classes at NECC, and turning sixteen in a few days.

Like millions of young people around the world, T and Z’s lives have been drastically upended by the Coronavirus Pandemic.

As she is approaching graduation in a highly collaborative field that requires hands-on laboratory experience, Big Sis’ university, like NECC, has extended its spring break while faculty and staff prepare to provide classes remotely and students migrate home or hunker down in nearly empty dormitories or off-campus apartments.  Commencement celebration plans are up in the air.

Meanwhile, Little Sis thrives on her friendships, and is struggling with “social distancing” while schools across the state are closed for at least three weeks.  She is an athlete whose spring track and field meets have been cancelled.  She is a young woman who, just a few weeks ago, picked up a beautiful gown for her first prom, which will probably not be held.  She will miss having a 16thbirthday party, and the teenage rite-of-passage that is standing in a crowded line at the RMV to test for her learner’s permit to drive a car.

Rather than filter their feelings about all this through the eyes of a 52-year-old Gen X-er, I thought it might be best to just ask Big Sis T and Little Sis Z about their experiences, and let them tell their own stories.

 

What has changed for you? 

 

Little Sis Z:

 “Social Distancing” has changed my social life for sure, being distanced from friends, relatives, and school activities.  My school work has changed drastically.  It feels like I have less work right now, but that could all change over this “Caronacation.”

I had some important events coming up including my birthday and family gatherings, but like most things, these are able to be postponed and celebrated once it’s appropriate.  And, I just got a job that I really loved in a restaurant, and was laid off, two weeks after I started. ☹️

Big Sis T:

Because the town where I am is very rural, there is not much to do around here that isn’t about school or work or grocery shopping. Now that school is taken out of the mix and businesses are starting to close or limit their services, it’s just a lot of staying at home and being grateful that the sun is out and the winter has been pretty easy this year. At first this time off seemed like a great way to catch up on things I’d been putting off but it’s starting to get extremely boring.

 

What worries you the most? 

 

Little Sis Z:

There are many things that concern me and those around me right now. I am concerned for my family and friends of course, especially elderly family. My educational path is up in the air right now. How will my grades fluctuate through all of this? Will I be able to reach my requirements by the end of the year? The people around me and my academic future are probably most important to me.

But, like most students right now at my school I still worry about the little things, too.  Will my prom be cancelled? Will spring sports still be happening when this is all said and done? Will we be finishing out the year in the actual school?

Now, on a larger scale I am aware that these are of little concern, but like most people, I believe they are an important thing for teens to enjoy while they still can.

 

Big Sis T:

Being the anxious overthinker I am, I have run through most of the worst-case scenarios. My biggest worry in the short term is that a lockdown in my apartment could prove that I don’t have something I need. In the long term, I am worried about graduating college and immediately going into a recession. I wasn’t fully aware of the 2008 recession, and I am in a generation that has extreme anxiety about money, so the idea of spending my first true adult year in that situation is scary.

Then of course, there are the irrational fears that kick in with the idea of lockdowns, reminding me of movies like “Contagion” and the TV show “The Walking Dead.” There is an apocalyptic feel to it all…

 

How are you spending your time? 

 

Little Sis Z:

Sleeping in has been nice and all, but unfortunately you can only sleep for so long. 😴

Trying to stay with a normal schedule is pretty hard while locked up but I am trying my best. Sometimes, though probably not often enough, I try to exercise.

I have been given quite a bit of homework that keeps me busy for a couple of hours, but it can be hard to stay focused in the comfort of my own home. All of those art supplies and craft kits are finally coming in handy, keeping my hands busy while I binge watch Netflix shows.  All and all, my inner couch potato has been showing a little too much.

 

Big Sis T:

Like this (turn up volume and click here: https://youtu.be/9tcMzwkTMeI):

My Quarantine Song: “When Will My Life Begin (Again)?”

By Thomasina Glenn (adapted from “Tangled”)

 

Has anything good come from this crisis?

 

Little Sis Z:

Sitting inside for days has never been my strong suit.  I love to see people and keep myself busy, so this has been a bit of a struggle. On a personal scale, I have not found too many good things arising from this crisis. But on the news, we have seen small communities around the world come together, singing their thanks to doctors and nurses from balconies, and pollution levels have gone down. Does this help the pandemic?  Not necessarily, but it’s a nice change in such strange times.

 

Big Sis T:

I’ve been able to focus on my mental health. I’ve been painting, doing yoga, writing songs. It feels like there is less pressure on everything because no one cares about the little things right now.

 

What do you want others to now about the experience of students right now? 

 

Little Sis Z:

This is hard and it’s far from fun. Never did I think I would say I wish I was in school, but here I am wishing I was sitting through the school day like normal. We are young and impatient, but we are trying to do our part in stopping the spread of the virus.

 

Big Sis T:

If I was a sophomore or junior in high school this would be great for a while. But this is my last semester in my undergrad program and I’m not even sure if graduation will still happen.

I completed most of my Associate’s degree through online classes in high school, but I haven’t done online classes since then. I don’t want to go back into that learning mindset, but I’m lucky because there are plenty of students who choose not to do online classes because they aren’t successful in them. I’m also in a major that’s very hands-on, working in labs and recording studios.  Now I will be limited to once a week discussion posts? (Ugh!) 😝

 

 

Until now, there hasn’t been a single, widely used name for the newest, youngest generation of Americans, like Big Sis T and Little Sis Z.

While terms like “iGen”, “Homelanders”, or “Gen Z” have been floated, a couple of years ago, the Pew Research Center categorized today’s living generations this way, and referred to anyone between the ages of 6 and 21 as simply “Post-Millenials,” until, they said, “more consensus emerges as to their name”:

The Silent Generation was defined by world wars and a nose-to-the-grindstone sense of duty.

Baby Boomers are known by their sheer numbers, consumerism, the Vietnam War, and the counter-culture movement of the ‘60’s.

Gen X-ers were famously forged as “slackers” and “latchkey kids” from the “MTV Generation.”

And Millennials, of course, grew up surrounded by technology and social media, and in the wake of 9/11 and the Great Recession.

“Post-Millennials,” whatever this generation comes to be called, hadn’t yet experienced their most-defining moment.

Until now.