Dear Class of 2020: The Class of 2001 Feels You, and It Will Be Okay
No, it's not the same thing. But we know how you're feeling, and we're here to tell you that this, too, shall pass.
Hi. My name is AJ on the radio, but my real name is Jenny. I graduated from Wauwatosa West High School (a suburb of Milwaukee) in 2001. I'd planned on going to college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for broadcast journalism.
A lot of you were born, ironically enough, the same year.
Unlike you, I was lucky enough to have a senior prom and a graduation ceremony. I can't imagine what it must be like not to have those events that you looked forward to so much and had to work so hard for. In that sense, no - I don't get it, but I feel for you. I wish I could give those experiences to you.
After a summer of working 13-hour days to save up for school, I started as a freshman at UWM. We had one normal week of classes...
...and then, 9/11 happened.
The recession started. We watched our young friends, who we last saw in caps and gowns, shipped off to war. And some of those young friends never came home. I had friends who got married at 19 to help offset their student debt because their parents no longer had jobs to help them pay for school.
Everything changed in a heartbeat. Would there be jobs for us when we graduated? Should I drop out of school and go into the military? WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?
Just a few months earlier, we were kids, enjoying life and looking forward to the future. On September 11th, 2001, we were forced to become adults and we weren't sure if there was going to be a future to look forward to.
Unfortunately, I have no answers for you. I don't know when the world will open back up for business. After 9/11, the world didn't quite shut down as it has for you; we could still go to school, work, etc. But it wasn't the same.
I understand that feeling of hopelessness. You're having to grow up faster than you'd ever anticipated. There are a lot of very adult problems and emotions that you're having to deal with right now.
And this isn't just for high schoolers; this is for college students, too. You don't get to walk across the stage to Pomp and Circumstance. Will there be employment for you AFTER this blows over? What about student debt?
WHAT ABOUT US?!?!
My advice is to breathe. Let go of the control that you thought you had. Realize that there are a lot of things that you can't control, and focus on the things that you can control. The older I get, the more I realize that being a control-freak was one of my worst personal attributes.
I was given a copy of a videotape of 9/11, which was shot by my friend who was studying at NYU at the time. Raw footage of the entire event from an apartment 10 blocks away from the World Trade Center. For years, I've been meaning to convert it to a digital file and, last year, I finally did.
I sat down and watched it and all of those feelings of hopelessness came back, and that's how you'll feel for the rest of your life when somebody mentions the coronavirus outbreak. But someday, you'll realize that you made it through, and it made you and everybody you know a better person. And that's what I realized when I watched the video, 19 years later.
Love you guys. Stay strong.