As the United States has grappled with a deadly pandemic of historic proportions, young people have been watching.
Many were old enough to understand its challenges — yet too young to be making key decisions themselves. But they felt Covid-19’s impacts nevertheless as the country weighed central debates: virtual learning or in-person? Masks or no masks? Vaccination mandates or not?
And with another school year underway, young people are once again at the center of much of the conversation. While health experts promote school mask policies and an increase in vaccination rates to protect students who gather in classrooms, some governors have pushed back.
Many young people told CNN they felt helpless while others worried about their mental health. “This pandemic has brought me self-reflection and analysis, but it also was a test on the world and this country, and I fear we are failing,” said Ella Stromberg, a 17-year-old from Vancouver, Washington.
Young Americans may not have autonomy over how they attend school, if their families get vaccinated or the policies elected officials implement, but they are observing the victories and pitfalls of those who do.
During the recent Covid-19 surge leading into the school year, CNN asked Americans 16 and over what they’ve taken away from the pandemic thus far. Here’s what they had to say.
What I lost
From academic success to social life, those who responded said the pandemic took away important parts of their youth.
Ella’s pandemic scrapbook
We asked our respondents to send in some pictures that they felt best described their pandemic experience. Ella Stromberg, a high school student from Washington state, said the pandemic left her struggling to still be a teenager in the isolation and divide.
What the adult world lacked
As they saw their world fall apart, what many didn’t see was support, compassion, unity and understanding from the adults around them.
Sebastian’s pandemic scrapbook
Sebastian, 17, went through the pandemic in New York state — one of the places that was hardest hit early on.
Justina’s pandemic scrapbook
In New York state, Justina Michaels said the world moving online took a toll on her schooling and her self-esteem.
What we need
Patience, an open ear and common ground — young Americans had some suggestions for how to make the country better.
Jackson’s pandemic scrapbook
In Pennsylvania, 18-year-old Jackson said he felt the brunt of the pandemic but also saw the country coming together to look for solutions.
What I gained
But even in the hardest of circumstances, they found new strengths and hope for the future.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to remove a quote that was incorrectly attributed.