The past month has challenged our community in numerous ways. We stand helplessly on the sidelines as local shops are forced to close and our Walmarts become ravaged by enraged toilet paper enthusiasts. As a result, it seems that there are several reasons to complain: we are locked in our homes as the flowers bloom outside and the economy begins to shudder.
But I offer a positive perspective, one that sprouts from what appears to be an unfortunate situation. I am one of the hundreds of high school seniors in Walton County who, this year, will be deprived of a satisfying end to a 13-year race. Our schools have closed for the academic year, and the class of 2020 is forced to cope with the possibility that a traditional graduation ceremony will never come. The moments we have spent in the classroom have met a dramatic conclusion, and the buffer which once separated our childhood from the realities of adulthood is now lost.
It should come as no surprise that we are devastated and confused. The classes we once complained about are now missed, the casual friendships we formed in the hallways are now gone, and the teachers we know and love are obligated to convey their knowledge through a glowing box. I truly never thought I would find myself missing early morning calculus exams, but I suppose COVID-19 has produced some surprising emotions in all of us.
And yet, we are simultaneously forced to understand that the cause of this abrupt ending is necessary. Social distancing, a word which no one had heard of before March, is now the rule by which we govern our day-to-day lives, and while it is a rule which many dislike, it is one which I find irrefutable. The effects of simply staying home are enormously helpful for slowing the progression and peak of this disease, but I realize that the costs seem equally terrible. The simple everyday tasks we used to perform are now severely limited, and, in the case of my fellow classmates, the number of people we see on a daily basis is reduced to our loving family and friendly siblings.
However, allow me to paint a world where our society chose to ignore the crisis and simply did nothing. COVID-19 would have become a reality all across the globe in a matter of days, both the immunocompromised and healthy would have become infected, coming down with what would feel like flu symptoms on steroids. Many of the healthy would have lived. Many of the immunocompromised, our friends and family, would have died. And, in a similar fashion, our global economy would have begun to slip as fear grips the nations.
Fortunately, this world is not our reality, and, while we may have seen some truly odd things come out of the past several weeks (I’m looking at you, toilet paper hoarders), we have also witnessed the best our society has to offer. Food banks and schools have come together to feed the less fortunate, the wealthy have donated millions in global aid, people have become more conscious of their health, communities have grown closer as they are physically apart, we are able to bond more with our families…the list goes on and on.
Of course, I am not so ignorant as to not see the shadow which has gripped our economy. Millions of Americans have been forced to apply for unemployment as their jobs are either put on hold indefinitely, or permanently. Families all across the world are struggling to pay their bills and feed their children. If anything, this situation has taught us that we need to make some major changes in how our society thinks and acts. Hopefully, those once skeptical among us now realize the important role vaccines play in our lives, and how just one uncontrollable disease can wreak havoc on the lives of those who have no choice.
To my fellow seniors: I realize that our entire lives now feel unstable and the future feels both upsetting and uncertain. But understand that the effects we are feeling hold no comparison to the countless others who have lost their jobs, become sick, or died. Yes, the moment we have been working tirelessly toward for 13 long years is now held in limbo, but it is not the end of the world. We still have our friends, our families, and our communities, and we shouldn’t risk them for the enjoyment of finishing senior year like every class before us.
Keep everything in perspective. Continue to look for the light at the end of this seemingly unending tunnel, and stay positive. Try to take this whole situation as a learning opportunity, one which will have us all coming out as stronger, more empathetic people.
Editor’s Note: Joshua Walker was first a Local News explorer, then an intern and now a Walnut Grove High School graduating senior after a year’s dual-track senior year between WGHS and the University of Georgia. He is heading to UGA in the fall to study international affairs, economics and foreign languages. Josh is interested in eventually working for the US State Department or the United Nations in a diplomatic role. I have no doubt Josh will accomplish anything he sets his mind to.
Do I sound proud of him? You bet I am!