The Class of 2020

You’re the oldest of generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, and you’re a member of the college graduating class of 2020. You made it! You achieved your goal of earning your college degree. Time to head out into the real world and make your way, right? Except the damn coronavirus had to get in the way of your plans.

You didn’t even get a commencement ceremony. The whole family was going to get together and celebrate with you. Bummer. But you can handle that. After all, a job application will ask if you have a college degree, not if you had a commencement ceremony.

Still, the virus has thrown a lot more curveballs your way than just that ceremony. Maybe you had a summer internship lined up, and felt pretty good it would lead to a job offer. It’s been canceled. If you majored in a field like Nursing, or Physician Assistant, you’re really in trouble. You needed to complete professional rotations over the summer before you could even receive your degree, but hospitals and medical centers have largely canceled positions for those rotations. You’re on hold. The economy is shot, the number of job postings online is in the toilet, and you’re living at home. You’re broke, and not even eligible for unemployment compensation.

You don’t see a lot of options for yourself right now, do you? Rosy statements from the President – “We’re back!” – don’t do it for you, do they? Your self-esteem is ravaged; you’re full of self-criticism and anger; your personality feels robbed, empty, helpless, and worthless; you’re spending too much time in that depressing wasteland called social media, trying to rally others to join your pity parade.

You’re trying to cope with a lot of stress, and you really don’t know to proceed. Well, consider this: Any coping challenge requires several steps:

First, you need to accept what’s going on. That includes the reality of the external circumstances around you – you can try to avoid that reality, but it will still be there in the morning – and the emotions you feel. Those emotions are you; do not be ashamed of them or try to deny them. You must use their energy in positive ways to spur you into action.

Second, you need accountability. Don’t waste your time looking for someone to blame for your predicament. It’s real and finding a scapegoat is not going to make it go away. Resolve to use your strengths – your intelligence, judgment, initiative, and social skills – to devise a plan to get you moving forward again. Be accountable to your strengths.

Third, devise a plan that includes two crucial components that only you can provide: Humility – it’s not always about you – and Empathy – you must be sensitive to the needs of others.

“Well that’s just great,” you’re thinking, “but how am I supposed to do all this fancy-sounding stuff?” Listen to what a couple of your Gen Z cohorts have to say about that. These comments come from a recent (June 1/8, 2020) issue of Time magazine.

Salvador Gomez-Colon is a teenager from Puerto Rico. Remember just a few years back when Puerto Rico was virtually demolished by hurricanes Irma and Maria? Faced with a destroyed electric grid, Salvador came up with a simple goal: For Christmas, illuminate each home in Puerto Rico with solar lightbulbs. Today, faced with the challenges of Coronavirus, Salvador is at it again, and says, “There are countless ways to support each other even as we remain physically separate, whether it’s sewing masks for vulnerable populations or writing thank-you notes to essential workers.”

Then there’s Abigail Harrison. Abby is 23 and came to national attention 10 years ago when she said she wanted to be the first astronaut to walk on Mars. Reflecting on our troubling times she says, “I’ve seen people risk their lives to care for others. And most incredibly, I’ve seen masses of people choose to cast themselves into isolation to protect people they will never know.” Abby sees the glass as half-full, and is one of those people who can squeeze the positive out of the most negative circumstances: “Losing so much control over our lives, combined with the isolation that comes from social distancing, has made the pandemic feel nearly impossible to overcome. Know what else feels nearly impossible? Going to Mars. But I assure you, they’re both possible.”

The key to coping with stress is to get into task-based mode – “I can contribute to this effort.” – and out of emotion-based mode – “This is not fair!” To cope with the challenges of your frustrating and depressing emotions, you must get off your duff and venture forward to help complete tasks. How? Well, what organizations in your area need volunteers? Contact them and offer your services. Or, ask yourself how you and your friends might organize and offer services and materials to people in your community who are suffering more than you. Feel the pain of others, reach out to them, offer your services.

There are also a number of service initiatives at a national level that offer opportunities to volunteer in areas like national parks, retirement homes, Habitat for Humanity, animal rescue, libraries, food pantries, Red Cross, and political campaigns. You may scoff at volunteer activities, but remember – they offer collateral opportunities for networking, expanding your knowledge and problem-solving skills, and discovering new career paths that fit with who you are.

I guarantee that when you get involved in service activities, you will experience satisfaction like you never have before. You will learn how working with others in a common venture will nurture your development of a social conscience. You will learn how to communicate with others – how both to speak and listen. You will discover a two-way street where you receive even as you give. You will enjoy the beauty and grace of other people, and see that there are fulfilling discoveries along a meaningful and enjoyable road of life. And when that first job comes along, you will be prepared to profit from it in ways you didn’t expect.

2 thoughts on “The Class of 2020”

  1. I really believe this is quite applicable at any age. Especially if you are used to working and quite suddenly find yourself without work. One day you work with a lot of people and the next day you are isolated at home. I really like the idea of volunteering as it can expand your horizons in a very rewarding way. And you just may make a lot of new friends in the process. Staying positive is challenging in a negative world right now, but even that challenge (to me) can be a coping strategy to work to your advantage.


  2. Excellent observation! I completely agree. This entry is not just about the class of 2020. It offers a general coping strategy that applies to any problem and any age. That’s why the acceptance/accountability/plan with humility and empathy is presented as a general coping strategy. I think the entry from January 31st would also illustrate your point. Thanks very much for your comment.


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