Unofficial Gen Z spokesperson Yara Shahidi said something in a recent IG live conversation for British Vogue that made me think of the class of 2024 — you know, the one that basically attended their proms on TikTok while the planet burned. “I was born into a dystopian world,” she said, speaking into a webcam, flanked by a desk and bookcase. “I was born into a world in which we didn’t even have the myth of utopia to distract us.”
Shahidi’s backdrop mirrors the setting of many students heading to university and college this fall as they welcome campus life virtually with Zoom classes and online Frosh events instead of keggers and crowded lecture halls. Having to attend school from your bedroom isn’t exactly dystopic, but doing so in the middle of a global pandemic, racial reckoning, and climate crisis is. The class of 2020 isn’t just dealing with virtual curriculums, sky-high tuitions, cancelled campus activities, forced gap years, uncertainty for international students, and miscommunication from university administrations. When they graduate, they’ll also be entering whatever depleted workforce is left in the wake of an impending recession.
If that all sounds bleak, that’s because it is, but this crop of recent graduates is resilient. “We’re the best generation to handle this,” says Jasmine Choi, one of the Canadian teens I interviewed for this piece. The students starting first year are going in with their eyes open: knowing how anti-Black Canadian post-secondary institutions can be, understanding what crushing disappointment feels like (multiple students told me they had to give up going to their dream schools because of COVID-19 restrictions), and working through the complicated emotions of having to stay put in small-minded hometowns that won't let them be themselves (a story from a queer student hoping to go to university to finally meet like-minded people brought me to tears).
Here, 10 Canadian students reveal their biggest worries about starting post-secondary school in a pandemic and how their schools have been handling this tumultuous time. And for some optimism (as a treat), they share their hopes for the future.