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On Resilience and the Overlooked Ones of the Pandemic

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of helping my youngest son move into his very first apartment. It’s across the country in a midwestern state and while it’s certainly difficult to have my son leave home, I couldn’t be more proud of him—but it’s not for the reasons you might think.

Yes, I’m certainly proud he graduated in three years summa cum laude at the top of his class from a B1G college with a worthwhile degree in finance, but more than that, I’m immensely proud of the way he handled all the frustrating uncertainty life has thrown at him since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It was a long uncertain journey from the spring of 2019 to that new apartment and his first professional job in the winter of 2022.

For several obvious reasons I was reluctant to write about it much, but over the past two and a half years, I watched as my college-aged son endured being robbed of his complete on-campus college experience, having three promising internship offers evaporate, and having to compete with two years worth of graduate job-seekers who had internship experience, all due to the pandemic and the hysterical overreaction to the pandemic by schools, businesses, and the government. He jumped through months of countless and sometimes bizarre interview hoops—including multiple trips across the country—to make it to the final round of several finance job interviews only to find in the end, they picked the one other candidate who had the internship experience or who checked a DEI hiring box. It was an extremely frustrating experience, to put it mildly.

Through it all, I also watched as my son didn’t give up and kept trying, if not with a positive attitude, at least without a defeatist one. While I won’t pretend he didn’t get frustrated, I will admit he made me proud time and time again as he endured and adjusted to each change or roadblock along the way. I knew as a mother I wanted to teach my boys to be resilient, but sometimes it’s hard to know if the lesson got through or not. I’m now sure my son understood this lesson very well. Today he has the job he really wanted that suits him perfectly and just happens to be on the campus of his alma mater. He’s working in the field he wanted and in the same city that he had to leave due to the pandemic.

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I’m extremely grateful for the unexpected time I got to spend with my son over the past two years. God knew I needed that, but I’m also grateful that I was able to see his resilience in action. He spent his time during the pandemic not feeling sorry for himself but working to improve himself among other things as a grocery store worker, a high school volleyball coach, and a substitute teacher. He even taught himself the coding language Python. At the risk of sounding like an overproud mother, I doubt many kids his age would’ve embraced this frustrating time as he did.

Undoubtedly this isn’t the first generation to endure such frustrating uncertainty. The generations before ours weathered two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, assassinations, social upheaval, and many other events that turned their lives upside down; however, they also knew the importance of resilience—and now we do too.

My son and other young adults like him are the overlooked ones of the pandemic. Young recent college graduates who had to deal with the complicated and frustrating new world we live in while job hunting. They did everything right; they went to school, got good grades, played sports, joined clubs, stayed out of trouble. And then the pandemic came along and took it all away. Some of them rose to the occasion. Some of them didn’t. I’m speaking here on behalf of the ones who did.

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While there’s been a lot of talk about school-aged children and the impact the lockdowns have had and are still having on them, not much coverage has been given to the rising generation and how they are fairing throughout all the upheaval and uncertainty of the past few years. Some are suffering in silence, while others are written off as slackers riding out the pandemic playing video games in their parents’ basements. There have been, of course, alarming reports of a lost generation who are dropping out and of a disturbing climb in suicide rates; while these are tragic to be sure, what about the young adults who have persevered and made the best of the situation even in the worst of times? These young people have been through a lot and they deserve our praise and support. Every normal milestone they accomplish, such as moving into a new apartment or starting a new professional job, should be recognized and celebrated.

Therefore, if you have young adults in your life, even tangentially, I urge you to reach out to them. Check in and tell them you see them trying. Let them know it’s okay to be frustrated but not to give up. Mentor them. These young adults need to know good things will come; they just might not look as expected or they may come from somewhere wholly unexpected, but come they will—eventually. And when they do, they’ll take the valuable lessons they’ve learned as they grab on to an opportunity to create an extraordinary life for themselves. I know I’ll be here cheering them on every step of the way.

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