For these young people, the pandemic has been tough. Here are their hopes for the future.
When Grant Williams was 19 began studying film at New York University in 2020, academic restrictions made socializing nearly impossible. He spent hours walking alone in the city, taking an average of 30,000 steps a day. He developed severe anxiety, lost 20 pounds, and eventually transferred to a college close to his family in Dalton, Georgia. Nearly two years later, he still thinks back to his time in New York every day: “It’s a form of PTSD.” Inspired by the therapist who cared for him, he is now studying biology and hopes to become a heart surgeon.
Lindsay Cohen, 20, considered his grandfather his best friend. But when he killed himself a year into the pandemic, she couldn’t remember the last time she had seen him in person — they lived in different states. In his honor, Lindsay got a tattoo of her grandfather’s initials. “I just called him dad though.” Now a sophomore at the University of Alabama, Lindsay works to raise awareness of men’s mental health issues; a link to related resources is now part of his Instagram bio.
The pandemic has accelerated the political shift of this now 27-year-old woman to the right. (She asked that her name not be used.) She thinks the mainstream media has highlighted the threat of covid-19. She got an atom tattooed on her hand to show she’s not anti-science. When her restaurant business in Dallas dried up due to the pandemic, she moved to DC, where she says she worked for a conservative group and protested outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. She now works as a waitress in the Nebraska, but she hopes to one day start her own podcast, modeled after a conservative podcast she listens to.
“After the pandemic, I want go out more and spend more time with my family. After immigrating from Mexico in 2017 at the age of 18, Fernando Padilla opened a fruit stand in Chicago’s Chinatown. When pandemic restrictions shut down his business, he began driving 32 hours to his home state of Jalisco to buy bulldog puppies, which he then sold in Chicago. Fernando reopened his stand in March 2021, but wasn’t sure customers would return. On the first day, it sold out within two hours. His puppy business is still his main source of income, but he dreams of opening a physical fruit store like the ones in Jalisco.
Can’t see friends, Caitlin Settle, 21, from New Orleans, found a new online community through the Discord messaging app, where she spent hours with strangers playing video games and drinking. “I talk to these people that I don’t know, but I got very attached to them.” They created a group chat that grew to 17 people who helped her through isolation, Caitlin says. Last year, one of his online friends from Texas came to visit him in New Orleans; recently, she traveled to New York to meet two other people. She now works at a mask shop, which was busy this Mardi Gras.
Couvisa Washington, 26, once made hundreds of dollars a week drumming on a plastic bucket on a freeway off-ramp in Chicago. His income evaporated as the pandemic drove tourists and local traffic away from home. “You couldn’t see anyone outside.” Sometimes he would gamble all day to win $15. However, playing was a way for him to keep busy and stay safe. Hailing from Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, many of his friends have died of gun violence over the past two years.
Sharon Lemus, 23, grew up in a crowded mobile home in Santa Fe. Until the pandemic, she organized her life to spend as little time there as possible, working two jobs and studying at her local community college. When it all came to a halt, she had no choice but to stay home. It was noisy, chaotic and stressful. His brother and his girlfriend had a drug problem which worsened during the lockdown and in 2021 they had a son. Eventually, his brother and his girlfriend moved out, and Sharon helped his mother assume joint custody of their son. Now Sharon is looking for a place of her own.
After graduation from North Carolina A&T State University, 23-year-old Kayla Diallo joined Teach for America (TFA) and was placed in an elementary school in South Dallas. The pandemic meant she had a hybrid in-person and online teaching schedule and she struggled to play instructor, counselor and even quasi-parent. When a winter storm hit Texas in early 2021, one of his sophomores lost his home. She took him shopping for clothes and toys. Almost done with her second year of TFA, she plans to stay in Dallas but isn’t sure if she’ll continue teaching.
This 23-year-old Native American – whose knitted cap bears a small bell and pinned feather charm that belonged to his late mother – became a father in 2020. But job shortages near his New Mexico Pueblo and a debilitating addiction to heroin made parenthood difficult. He eventually managed to find part-time jobs, but he wasn’t making enough money, so he said he started stealing from stores to support his son: “He’s my little one. man, my everything.”
Micah Estevan, 23, works in a body shop near Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation. As a child, Micah’s church pastor helped install running water and electricity in his family’s mobile home. Micah sometimes called him grandpa. But during the pandemic, Micah says the pastor has become increasingly political and far-right, lashing out at Democrats and disparaging minority groups, including Native Americans like Micah. He therefore stopped going to church and now explores his religious identity through the books of Russian novelist Feodor Dostoevsky, Japanese writer Shusaku Endo and others.
Jamie Galicia and her boyfriend, AJ, met on the first day of school at Central Wyoming College in 2019. They started dating until the school sent people home due to the pandemic in March 2020 – AJ in a Colorado apartment without WiFi and Jamie at his family home in Idaho. They separated. Months later, AJ posted a song on YouTube about Jamie. They started talking again. When Jamie caught covid-19, they fell asleep on FaceTime. Eventually, AJ found a job near Jamie and they’ve shared a house with his family ever since. “Sometimes I wonder if covid never happened, would we still be together?” she says.
When the pandemic reached Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, facilities there have been closed. However, many park employees remained. One of them was Luxianna Watkins, 25. More than a thousand miles from her older parents in rural Illinois, Luxianna felt isolated and homesick — and stuck. She feared she would never see her parents again: “They might die and I’d be stuck in Wyoming.” Luxianna expressed her gratitude to her parents by writing them a six-page letter. She didn’t want to say anything. She now visits them every six months.
three weeks later Shay Scott’s human resources job in Virginia became totally remote in 2021, she decided to move to New Orleans. Shay, 26, had spent much of her childhood moving – about 40 times before college, sometimes in and out of homeless shelters. During the pandemic, however, she slowed down and was lucky enough to deal with an eating disorder and childhood pains: “Instead of looking at everyone, I looked at myself. At first, New Orleans felt like home, but her remote job prevented her from making new friends, so she plans to move back to the East Coast, perhaps to Philadelphia. Shay says she misses the cold.
Hunting Hansen, 23, is a punk rock drummer from Los Angeles who has worked as a professional welder since he was 17. In January 2020, he enrolled in community college for the first time. Pandemic stimulus checks helped him stay in school, but he dropped out after three semesters: “I missed working with my hands.” He recently formed a new band and is in talks to sign a recording contract. “I feel like I’ve succeeded in life,” he says. “I just wish there was more financial security in a punk band. I don’t care, as long as I’m happy.
Max Strickberger and Alan Jinich are seniors at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and Neuroscience respectively. They have been close friends since childhood and grew up on the same street outside of DC
Manuscript maps from Generation Pandemic.