Three weeks ago I was looking forward not only to spring break but a break from dining hall food, showering in flip flops, and the heavy load of readings that come with life at college. Now, I look forward to when I will be able to return to all of this.
I am quarantined in the basement of the house I have lived in my whole life because of an exposure to COVID-19 I had while at school. Instead of a family meal at the kitchen table, my parents leave food for me on the top of the stairs and tell me when it is safe for me to come up and get it. This is not how I imagined the second part of my freshman year to unfold. I did not think that my peers and I would be taking classes online or that I would be relocated back to my hometown for an uncertain amount of time. We must use this moment of pause and uncertainty to reflect on our shared values.
My generation entered the world the same year 9/11 rattled the idealistic American mindset. I have no personal recollections of the event but I can recall the happenings of the incident as though I was witnessing it myself. I remember where my parents were and what they were doing. I remember watching documentaries about 9/11 every year in school. America united in the war on terror. I don’t remember a time when TSA and extra security measures did not exist. I was born with the new way of life that many of my parents were now learning to become accustomed to. I have learned about the American response to 9/11 in most of my history classes growing up. It has been an event that we learn about when we assess political crisis management.
This is our moment to continue to rise up and stand up for what is right.
Our generation is not afraid of the fight. We have rallied for equal rights, marched for gun control measures, protested discrimination, knocked on the doors of candidates who uplift our voices, and stood up for what we believed in.
Young people have led the movement on issues relating to climate change. We have demanded responsible gun control measures. And we have rushed to the polls to elect leaders who reflect our values.
Now is not the time to abandon our values. We must unite and rally behind our health care workers and first responders the way we do behind Greta Thunberg and the Parkland shooting survivors.
Now is not the time to take $50 trips to Miami, no matter how tempting that may sound. It is not the time to go out to bars and amusement parks and take advantage of short lines.
Now is the time to stay home. Take the time to feel sad for the abrupt pause to life — the canceled events, weddings and celebrations. And then, I beg of you to please consider the implications of each of our decisions. Let’s learn from those being impacted by the disease. Let’s learn from the response after 9/11 and do better. Because in a generation from now the students will be looking at what we did during this pandemic to restore order. Women took over the factories during World War II; let’s work together to fill the voids of child care that closed schools have left parents with. Let’s give our children something to look at in times of crisis. We must unite, fight, and love all in order to overcome this.
We are all a degree of separation away from someone who may be adversely affected by COVID-19. Now is the time to close our doors and open our hearts. This is our time to make those connections. Reach out to neighbors, the elderly and listen. Let’s show them we care. In the words of Rosie, “We can do this!”
Jessica Melnik is a first-year student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She is a graduate of Hopkins High School and the founder of Girls United MN.
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