Covid-19 has thrown a high speed curveball at my generation. And while we miss the prom, senior year trips, yearbook signatures, and formal graduations, I remind myself that I have faced far worse circumstances than this, and have come out the other side.
When I was 9 years old, my father died of a brain tumor, forcing my mother to take on double parenting roles. She said being a single mother was not an easy task, but she did an excellent job providing a life for my sister and me.
Less than 10 years later, in the fall of 2018, my family lost everything we had in a house fire. Fortunately, we were not home when the fire started, so even though we lost our material belongings, we still had each other. But we also had a secret weapon: a loving and caring community of family and friends that helped us start again.
From phone calls to financial support, almost all of our family members contacted us to make sure we had what we needed. Some of my teachers even stepped forward, providing clothes, toiletries, food, and school supplies for my younger sister and myself. A few weeks later, we found a new home and began the process of moving and furnishing it.
Then the tragedy happened again: just a month after the fire, my mother suddenly passed away from diabetes. As devastating as it was, I am still proud of my mother for taking such good care of us until her death. I always like to say that she cared more about my sister and me than ever about herself.
I decided to go back to school immediately. Some teachers encouraged me to take a few days off, but I knew that my mother would want me to continue my education. Of course, it was a struggle, but once again my community of friends, family and counselors came to my aid and made sure that I finished my secondary education. They reminded me of important dates and deadlines so that I could complete my school work on time and not miss tests or assignments.
While I am disappointed that I am not able to celebrate this milestone with the many people who helped me get to graduation day, I also know that I can handle this curved ball, and any others that come my way. Why? Because I am fortunate enough to have a community of people who are truly committed to my success and, well, I cannot disappoint them. Personal tragedies could not stop me; Covid-19 won't either.
Nile Francis recently graduated from South Cobb High School in Austell, Georgia.
Airreona Godfrey: I found strength in the most unlikely places
Imagine living in a home with 10 other people and one of them gets coronavirus. In a matter of days, almost everyone in that house is infected, each with varying degrees of severity. It is a terrifying possibility, although in my case it also came true.
In her senior year of high school, she hoped to celebrate all of the milestones graduates make: graduation, senior week celebrations, and graduation itself. Then Covid-19 disrupted my life, causing particularly severe harm to my family.
In mid-March, my stepfather became infected with the virus. In her 40s, she struggled with fever, chills, dry mouth and body aches for several weeks, before fully recovering. Meanwhile, my older brother tested positive, making himself ill. Shortly after that, two of my other siblings also became ill. Days later, my younger siblings and I began experiencing flu-like symptoms when the virus took over our home.
While my younger siblings and I had milder cases, we struggled to care for our parents and older siblings. Still, I reminded myself: It could be worse: one of them could die, and luckily, their cases weren't that bad.
Fortunately, I didn't have to worry about money either. Before the pandemic, she had been juggling two paid concerts, one as an intern at Strategic Community Partners, a nonprofit organization working to combat inequality in Detroit, and the other as a cashier at Little Caesars pizzeria.
When the pandemic started, but before my family and I got sick, my internship quickly moved to remote work, while my job at the pizzeria forced me to come and go from the store every day. My internship coordinator, aware of the risks my trip posed, offered to pay me the difference in hours for my time in Little Caesars. In other words, she would pay me almost twice as much so that I could avoid traveling and potentially spread or spread the virus to others, a wise move, considering that only a few weeks later my home would be her own group of coronaviruses.
My internship coordinator was not required to extend that kindness. As a non-profit organization, Strategic Community Partners operates on a modest budget. But he saw the risk and decided to let go of any financial restrictions that might exist to protect my well-being and those with whom I might have contact.
I think I should pay for that show of kindness, especially when I start my next chapter at Eastern Michigan University. And I must add that after being locked up with my family for several months, I really want to have my own space at the university.
Airreona Godfrey recently graduated from Frank Cody High School in Detroit, Michigan. She plans to attend Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan, this fall.
Julia Mead: Surviving Covid-19 takes a town and a ukulele
I am no stranger to health problems. At 3 years old, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which I hit, and 14 years later I remain tumor free. At age 13, I was diagnosed with epilepsy after having a seizure in the middle of the night, but I received the proper medication and continue to manage the disorder to this day.
So when the Covid-19 pandemic started, I didn't panic. Why? Because I have survived worse, and I am sure the American people can too. The question, of course, is how. While I can't prescribe an answer for everyone, I can say that music has been a saving grace. I have been playing ukulele for four years, and I am using this time at home to learn songs and expand my repertoire.
My mother and I are taking advantage of our Amazon Alexa, asking her to touch everything from Barry Manilow to Bad Bunny as we prepare dinner, a new night tradition. And we are even recording musical CDs (yes, CDs) for my grandmother, so that she can also console herself with the music.
I am also lucky to have more than just my music: I have a town of friends and family who supported me during my cancer diagnosis and support me through Covid-19. Most recently, they conducted a car parade through my neighborhood, congratulating all the seniors on our graduation and reminding us that we have not forgotten. In the absence of experiencing my high school milestones on my person, my "village" is an important reminder that I can overcome even the most difficult times.
Julia Mead recently graduated from Indian Creek School in Crownsville, Maryland. She plans to attend Juniata College in Huntington, Pennsylvania, this fall.