Last month, teenagers across the country graduated high school, walked across the stage and took their first steps into adulthood.
The Class of 2021 has managed to overcome the hardships of the past year — virtual classes, mask mandates and social distancing, missing out on big milestones like homecoming and prom, isolation from friends, not to mention the constant stream of turmoil on the news — and are on their way to a bright, better future.
As the majority of our generation now become full-fledged adults, we are poised to lead this country, and the world, out of this crisis.
Historians Neil Howe and William Strauss theorized that every 80 to 100 years (roughly the span of a long human life), the world experiences cycles which transform the social, political and economic climate. Following this crisis is a recovery. Strauss and Howe trace these generational turnings back four centuries in American history, defining these cycles as the high, the awakening, the unraveling, and the crisis.
The high is a period of expansion, where a new societal order takes root after the previous crisis. The awakening is a period of exploration and rebellion, where people begin to rebel against this newly-established order. The unraveling is a period of turmoil which leads to the fourth turning, the crisis, in which the order established in the previous high collapses, paving the way for the next societal transformation. If Strauss and Howe’s theory is to be believed, and a look back at American history surely suggests that it can, than the COVID-19 pandemic is the latest crisis to affect our world and we — the Class of 2021 and others our age — will be the generation to lead us through it.
The last crisis generation was known as “The Greatest Generation,” who came of age during the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II. After the war, society went through a vigorous upheaval, and the high that followed was an era of economic growth and political stability. T
he awakening stage in the 1960s saw a shift to social rebellion and non-conformity, and the unraveling stage that followed it saw some of the most tumultuous events of the past century, including the end of the Cold War, 9/11, the War on Terror and the recession of 2008.
The fourth stage of this cycle is the one we are in right now; the coronavirus pandemic has posed a threat to our health and by extension, our economy and society.
The way society operates has changed exponentially since last March. With the past election, the balance of power has shifted ever so slightly, and as it continues to shift, it has become apparent that society as we have known it will never again exist. If there is anything Generation Z has learned from the past year spent at home, it’s that we have more power to create change than we previously knew. Social media has expanded the horizons of modern activism, and as this generation grows, enters the workforce, and begins to run for public office, we will be able to create change for real, rather than just dreaming about a better future online.
We have the power to bring about the world we have envisioned, and it is our responsibility to pave the way for the post-pandemic world we want for ourselves and for those that will come after us. The next decade or so of our lives will set the tone of the next high, and it is up to us to ensure that the next generational cycle is a prosperous one.
To my fellow members of the Class of 2021, congratulations, and I wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors. Let’s go change the world.
Kate Morano is a graduate of Morris Central School and a freshman at American University in Washington D.C. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Daily Star has an opening for a Teen Talk columnist. Interested high school freshmen, sophomores or juniors from Otsego, Delaware, Chenango and Schoharie counties should contact Managing Editor Robert Cairns at email@example.com.