June 21, 2021

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How Have You Commemorated Milestones During the Pandemic?

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

What teenage milestones have you always looked forward to? Getting your driver’s license? Going to the prom? Graduating from high school? Celebrating your quinceañera, bar or bat mitzvah, or Sweet Sixteen?

Have you celebrated any of these coming-of-age traditions over the past year during the pandemic? What were these moments like compared to how you’d always imagined them?

In “‘We Feel Lost in Time’: Covid Transforms Teen Milestones,” Taylor Trudon writes about how teenagers have created new traditions and meaningful experiences to commemorate milestones during the pandemic:

Growing up, Carley Ebbenga was used to not having big birthday parties. Since her birthday falls right in the middle of winter break, most kids were out of town so she stuck to small celebrations. But for her Sweet Sixteen, Ms. Ebbenga, who lives in Romeoville, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, wanted to do something special. She envisioned a trip into the city with a few friends where they would eat a nice dinner and stay up late dancing in their hotel rooms.

The pandemic, of course, foiled her plans.

Ms. Ebbenga made the best of things. She invited two of her closest friends to a bonfire in her backyard. They ate chili made by Ms. Ebbenga’s mother and danced around the fire while drinking hot cocoa. The small group also had a “burning ceremony” where they had notebooks and pens to write down “the deepest, most saddest things,” read them out loud and then burn the slips of paper in the fire. Ms. Ebbenga had gotten the idea from watching one of her favorite YouTubers, The Purple Palace, who had made a video burning things she wanted to let go of.

A lot of what Ms. Ebbenga wrote down were those things she missed out on during the pandemic like a Sweet Sixteen or “the nights of laughter lost this year” and “attending my first art show.” “It feels really good to just straight-up watch the fire burn,” she said.

When pandemic lockdowns began last spring, high school students in the class of 2020 realized pretty quickly that they’d be missing their proms and started creating new ways to mark their graduations. But few younger teenagers could have imagined that their lives would still be so limited by the pandemic a year later. Indeed, with different rules across the country, kids have had wildly varied experiences: Some schools have been operating in person and holding proms as usual, while for others, the spring of 2021 is not all that different from last year. And as more classic teenage milestones like Sweet Sixteens, prom and graduation were disrupted or canceled entirely, these kids have had to turn their losses into opportunities, forging new traditions with friends.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What milestones, teenage rituals or rites of passage have you missed this year? It could be a sports tournament, a special birthday, a school dance or even just time spent with friends after school. How has it felt to have another year changed by the pandemic?

  • Tell us about a milestone you observed during the pandemic that you were not able to celebrate the way you had imagined. What did you originally want the celebration to be like? How did your plans change because of the pandemic? What did that change feel like? Was it empowering to create your own tradition? Or was it hard to not celebrate the milestone the way you wanted?

  • What do you think about the new traditions the teenagers in the article came up with for their important moments? Have you created any pandemic-friendly rituals to celebrate your accomplishments and milestones over the past year? Do you feel inspired to commemorate upcoming occasions in a new way?

  • If you’re in your senior year, did you anticipate events like visiting colleges, attending the senior prom and crossing the graduation stage? What has it felt like to not experience those milestones? What have you done in their place, if anything?

  • Amaya Wangeshi said that she and her friends “feel lost in time.” Do you identify with this feeling? If yes, in what ways have you felt lost? If not, how have you found meaning at this time?

  • Tommy Sinclair said that Covid-adapted rituals, even when they were sometimes less fun, were “better than not doing anything at all.” Do you agree with this sentiment? Have you found creative ways to participate in the activities you’ve looked forward to, like school plays or the prom? Or have you struggled with the mask mandates and social distancing requirements?


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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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