The Dislocations of Growing Up Absurd A student learns that adults do not have all the answers, and that young people may have a few.

Max Klapow (right) with Wyck Kinkade, class of 2022. (Photo courtesy Max Klapow)

I study psychology with a specific focus on positive human experiences: courage, fortitude, growth, and resilience. We constantly hear epic stories about these phenomena, from life-saving heroic feats to underdog stories of overcoming severe adversity, but the quieter, smaller moments tend to be lost in the productivity-driven world. The coronavirus pandemic has tested the resilience of entire communities, many of whom are not just fighting to stay alive, or for access to adequate care, but to be heard in the first place.

I celebrated my twenty-first birthday while in quarantine. Having now spoken with countless people over the age of twenty-one in crafting this essay, I found a theme amongst the advice I have been given regarding coming of age: the adults are not coming to save us. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, all the adults I asked gave an anecdote about the first time they realized that the adults around them had little more idea of what was going on or how to solve a problem better than they did. Coronavirus has amplified that for me. We mean it when we refer to this as an “unprecedented time” in email after email. Transitioning from a world of being told what and how to think to one littered with messages from higher-ups explaining that they have no answers is unsettling. It has also given me the opportunity to see just how quickly young people can rise to meet the challenges around us, especially when the adults charged with protecting us may not have an answer.

Having now spoken with countless people over the age of twenty-one in crafting this essay, I found a theme amongst the advice I have been given regarding coming of age: the adults are not coming to save us.

When the announcement of the university closure hit, college students were thrown into a disarray that has continued throughout the summer. We have scrambled to find plane tickets, gas money, and housing when we were displaced. We have marched in the streets, spent hours on Zoom planning meetings with university administrators, and created resources to protect each other when the adults were not able to. We have been called demanding when we ask for information and naïve when we take matters into our own hands. We have applied to hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs and listened to hiring managers rescind offers. We have sat in front of the television watching politician after politician make empty promises as the body count increases. I am tired of waiting for answers, especially when the brilliant young people around me have dozens of solutions.

Coronavirus has also taken a brutal toll on everyone’s mental health, but my demographic has suffered in particular. College is one of the most socially connected times in anyone’s life, and in the interest of safety, we must now be apart. Some students have to stay at home in abusive households, those who are lucky enough to return to their university face an increased risk of exposure, exorbitant room and board bills, and no guarantees that they will not be sent home within a matter of weeks. Some of these are universities’ policies, and some are just realities of a global pandemic. Regardless, difficulty accessing mental health care and a generational predisposition to mental disorders paints a bleak picture for us. Where do we go for help when we cannot go anywhere? Whom do we ask when no one seems to have any answers? The adults are not coming, it seems, because they are figuring out answers to these questions right alongside us.

Aside from these concerns, the pandemic has also catalyzed explosive social change. In a matter of weeks, this crisis has forced the United States to confront the holes in a system expected to protect the God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all. In principle, this simply is not the case, despite systemic attempts to teach students otherwise. I grew up in the South learning that not only is America the greatest country in the world, but that anyone who tells us otherwise is the enemy. Now, as a senior in college, I have learned better. Coronavirus has only confirmed what we knew before: America is not perfect, it is only sometimes great, and it most certainly has a long way to go. But how do we stay resilient enough to get there?

In searching for an answer to that very question, I have watched communities across the country put on a masterclass in banding together and pressing forward. Protestors hand out food and water to other protesters and make sure vulnerable bodies are protected. Entrepreneurs have founded organizations to connect furloughed workers with charities that need volunteer work. Massive petition and letter-writing campaigns have spread across the globe in a matter of days. More than any time in my short two decades, communities have come together to demand more of their leadership. My generation of college students is coming of age in a social and political firestorm that values science and accountability, honesty, and respect. We are participating in a nationwide effort to call out and revise history to include stories drowned out by white supremacy. We are expanding research to be more inclusive and community-centered. We are watching for gaps and waiting for opportunities to push our country further.

I grew up in the South learning that not only is America the greatest country in the world, but that anyone who tells us otherwise is the enemy. Now, as a senior in college, I have learned better. Coronavirus has only confirmed what we knew before: America is not perfect, it is only sometimes great, and it most certainly has a long way to go. But how do we stay resilient enough to get there?

It is no secret in developmental psychology that young people in particular tend to be extraordinarily resilient. The pandemic continues to be an excruciating test, but one that we are well-equipped to pass. We will continue to protest while hunting for jobs in a decimated economy, and we will continue showing up to class, innovating, and adapting to a world we have very little control over. Right now we are trapped, caught between knowledge of a broken system we are charged with fixing, and having extremely limited means to do so. I cannot imagine a better time to harness our resilience to continue fighting for a better world. People are starting to listen, and things are continuing to change. It may take time, and some of our older generations might be opposed, but we are used to playing the system and solving problems we do not know the answer to. It is what college students do, every single day.

If the adults are not coming, we most certainly are.

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