March 6, 2020
Every year I photograph a number of wonderful local High School Seniors from Fairfax and Arlington County schools. In the photos below you get to meet many of them, classes of 2019 and 2020. As the mother of three GenZ kids, I feel very close and connected to these teenagers and young adults. Here’s my love letter to “my” seniors, my own beloved kids, and the many others who have touched my life.
“You were but tiny toddlers or babies when 9/11 happened. Some of you weren’t even born. You do not remember an America that hasn’t been at war, somewhere in the world. Chances are, you have a family member or friend who has been on the front lines. You have been practicing fire drills, tornado drills, and lockdown drills during your entire school career. You are painfully conscious of mass shootings across the country, and on some days you may have felt not entirely safe going to school yourself. (Who says it can’t happen here, in your leafy suburb?). You experienced more than one “100 year” weather event in your roughly two decades. You were in elementary school during the recession of 2008, and one of your parents may have lost their job.
You grew up playing with blocks and trains and American girl dolls, and then, suddenly, you were a teenager with a computer, an iPhone, and access to the internet without any guidance on how to keep boundaries because we, your parents, didn’t know either. You got hooked on Instagram, and the number of likes on today’s photo may have been the source of great anxiety. You may have started to get so addicted to computer games and social media that your parents spent a small fortune to send you to an “unplugged” summer camp.
You are caught in a 24/7 news cycle and far more aware of what’s going on in the world than we, your parents, have been at any time in our lives. You are reminded daily that the ice is melting in the polar regions. You are keenly aware that people in many places in the world live in dire, existential circumstances, experience daily trauma and carry on in constant uncertainty. You know that many of your fellow Americans work multiple jobs and still can’t make ends meet. That 40% of Americans couldn’t dig up $400 for an emergency today and are one health event away from homelessness. Despite your privileged upbringing, you can’t be entirely sure that you may not be one of them one day.
All your lives, we’ve been telling you to work hard and follow your dreams, assuring you that you can be whatever you want to be if you put your minds to it. We’ve helped groom you so you can stand out in your college applications. To give you the best shot at fulfilling your aspirations.
But you know better. You know that even if it were true that YOU can live your dream, it’s not true for your generation as a whole. You know that many of your peers, perhaps you yourself, will be saddled with staggering amounts of student debt. That owning a home or starting a family is a distant, uncertain dream for many. You are aware of your privilege of growing up in an affluent suburb, attending superior schools, supported by caring adults.
It speaks so highly of you as human beings that it causes you anxiety to ride on this privilege. The anxiety and guilt of enjoying the privilege, as well as the anxiety generated by the implicit obligation that falls on your generation: to use your privilege to solve the issues that the very adults who were supposed to keep you safe have struggled, and sometimes failed, to address. This is not a burden a twenty-something should feel they have to carry. This is definitely not the burden we, your parents, felt on our shoulders a generation ago.
Already, your generation has done a great deal to make the world a better place. You are way more accepting of one another’s differences, more willing to be vulnerable and open, more aware of what’s going on in the world, more eloquent and vocal, and more active in fighting for what you think is right, than we, your parents, were at your age, or at any time.
Please know that whatever it is you want to do to make the world even a tiny bit better, I am here to cheer you on. I cheer you on from a place of deep admiration because I know that despite insinuations that your generation be “entitled,” this is not so. I cheer you on from a place of love because I know that anxiety can be debilitating. I cheer you on from a place of hope because of what you’ve already accomplished in spite of it all.”
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