Schools in NYC – the epicenter of the pandemic and home to us – will remain closed for the rest of the year. That doesn’t mean we’re not learning. Our public speaking coach asked what this experience taught us. Turns out, a lot. Mostly, we’ve learned how to better care for ourselves, each other, and use our voices well.
Here are 12 thoughts that come to mind:
1. Empathy: We learned that we are all in different places and situations, and it’s important to try and understand someone else’s point of view. As a country, we are fortunate compared to many other countries. But there are situations that some of us face and others don’t. Just because we may not be facing a particular situation, doesn’t make it not matter. Everyone has a voice. Everyone counts. It’s important to think not only about yourself, but respect what others’ need – even if you think it may not be the best for you.
2. Gratitude: We learned to be grateful for the most important things: family, friends, health, school. We learned that we undervalue and take for granted things until they are taken from us, like going outside. We learned to value and appreciate each other, because we realize how quickly what we have, know or love can change or go away.
3. The Importance of Nature: We learned we need to spend more time outside and in nature. Now that we can’t go to the park easily, we realize how essential it is to our health and well-being, helping us relax, easing stress, changing our mindset and giving us a different perspective. Many of us used to spend time indoors on purpose on video games, but now we miss being able to go to the park or outside when we want to. On the upside, we hope this may help us develop better habits and spend as much time outside as we can.
4. Importance of Connection: Friends, family and teachers are so important to us. While staring at screens for long periods of time isn’t a great idea, we’ve also found fun, friendship and new ways to connect with one another and be together through shared technology. We appreciate that. If this had happened 20 years ago, that wouldn’t be the case.
5. Health: We learned the singular most important thing is the physical and mental health of ourselves and our families. As kids, you might think we don’t always get that. But it took only one virus to bring billions of people together, cause incredible despair and put the world on hold. One virus.
6. Being Present: We learned we can’t necessarily count on “normal,” and what we think should be or when we’ll go back to “normal.” Maybe this is normal now. We have to live in the present moment and what is right now. The pandemic has shown us how fragile life can be and why it’s important to embrace the present.
7. What Sacrifice Means: We know many people make sacrifices for us. But it’s incredible to see the health care workers, first responders, essential workers, literally put their lives on the line for us – all of us. Not once, but every day, hours, weeks, months on end. Particularly in New York City – healthcare workers have left their own families to show up again and again for the greater good and families everywhere. The sacrifices these men and women have made are beyond compare and deserving of our total respect.
8. “Truth” is Different from Facts: We know telling the truth matters. But we’ve also seen two people in the exact same room have a different version of their own truth. In debate, we learn that truth can be subjective. Facts matter. And the only way to engage in a constructive debate is to know the facts. There is a big difference between facts, “truths” and opinion.
9. The Importance of Education: We learned how grateful we are for school and education. We miss our friends. We miss our teachers. We miss being together, laughing, learning, helping and challenging one another to grow, academically and as young adults. Even though we’re still learning and growing in some new, cool ways now – we miss learning the way we used to. We realize how fortunate we are to go to school at all.
10. A Positive, Team Mindset Matters: While many of us participate in sports and clubs, we learned by watching others during this time what it really means to be a great team. It’s amazing to see the way people have come together in a crisis. In NYC, people clap every night. At 7pm, the now mostly empty streets erupt with cheers for the healthcare and essential workers. It’s amazing to see people support one another, support small business, deliver necessary medical supplies, food to workers, the elderly and those in need, educators do whatever it takes, celebrities raise money, musicians play concerts, and parents try to do whatever they can – to make this situation work, and protect us. While everyone is facing this tough situation to a different degree, it’s amazing to see people use their strengths to support one another in whatever way they can, despite their own challenges. We should use this as a model and remember we’re one team.
11. Life Can Be Hard, But It’s Still Good: We learned the world is not perfect and neither are any of us. Maybe that’s a good thing for us to learn while we’re young. This is a confusing and sad time, so it’s OK to feel sad and confused. We’ve seen this situation cause stress to the adults around us. We know it’s challenging. We all have fewer places to go, but more to do, like chores. That’s OK. We probably needed to learn how to do our own laundry anyway. On the flipside, the pause has also helped heal the world. We now have a cleaner environment, animals roaming about. We are spending more quality time with our family – because everyone isn’t rushing off to the next thing. Perhaps we’ll develop better habits moving forward? We know adults worry about us kids – especially with remote learning, so let us just say this: We will be OK. We want you to be OK too. Because we love you and know that together is the way through.
12. Have Faith in Something Greater than Ourselves: When we first decided to try and give our TEDx talks, many wondered if we’d actually be able to do it – or do it well. But we had faith in ourselves, one another, believed in something greater than ourselves, and a community who pulled out all the stops to help us do something that had never been done before. Faith plus community and action works. But you have to believe in something greater than yourself.
In the short time we’ve been on this planet, the COVID 19 crisis is the most challenging experience we’ve known. We may need to reflect on what we’ve learned and the changes we need to make. But we are all capable of rising to that challenge. And if we believe in ourselves, support one another, have faith in something greater than ourselves, anything is possible.
And that we know, for sure.
Writers and Contributors – Fifth and Seventh-grade students at St. Joseph’s School – Yorkville: Nicolas Basso, Samantha Choi, Raymond Cremin, Zena Gardner, Tristam Hines, Eamonn Kennedy, Charlie Mango, Declan Miller, Desmond Miller, Declan Mulcahy, Finnbarr Mulcahy, Jackson Rooney, Ethan Russell, Pablo Sandoval Tapuerca, Riccardo Serafini
Coordinator & Editor: Patty McDonough Kennedy is the students’ public speaking coach, communication consultant, TEDx speaker, and founder of The SpeakWell Project – a program that teaches tweens & teens find their voice, use it well, and provides opportunities to share it.
Special thanks to Laura Leedy for her editing and our parents and teachers who inspire all of us every day. We love you.