Class of 2023, I salute you

When faced with a real, full-bore crisis, this generation of supposed snowflakes just got on with it and coped better than I did, says Joe Moran

七月 11, 2023
White coronaviruses that resemble snowflakes
Source: iStock

The class of 2023 will soon graduate. When they walk across that stage in their black polyester gowns and mortar boards to shake the vice-chancellor’s hand, it will feel different from previous years. This cohort is unique – and, hopefully, will remain so.

When they began university back in September 2020, this celebratory moment seemed a long way off. I knew them then only as shifting pixels arranged into headshots on my laptop screen. I was quietly freaking out. Covid cases were rising again and most campus buildings were shut, obliging students to log in to Zoom classes from their family homes or the shared accommodation at which many had already arrived, expecting to be taught face-to-face.

When I clicked on the button to start my first seminar with the first years, I spent a horrible few minutes alone in the virtual room, looking at the webcam image of my tired, haunted face, wondering how it had all come to this. Then I heard the reassuring pings that signalled students waiting to be admitted. I let them in, and their faces popped up one by one. Some were in their bedrooms, with their posters and photo walls behind them; others were sat at kitchen tables filled with everyday clutter. They looked friendly, if a bit dazed, and ready to roll with this surreal state of affairs. Within a few minutes, I thought: “This is going to be OK; we can do this.”

Campus resource: Building emotional resilience is not creating a generation of ‘snowflakes’

As the weeks went by, we grew more at ease with the technology and each other. I had conversations with them about their lives that I would never have had in a classroom. One of them, newly branded a “key worker”, was getting up at 3am each day to stack shelves at Asda. Another had lost all his income because bar work had dried up. All were struggling gamely with the practicalities of the new normal: competing over the family PC with home-schooling siblings, running errands for grandparents, doing the shopping and cooking for flatmates with Covid who were isolating in their rooms.

The news was full of stories about students having Covid parties to catch the virus from each other and get it over with. But these young people were obeying the rules, sacrificing all the fun bits of a fresher’s life for the sake of those more vulnerable.

That autumn was grim, with no sign of a vaccine yet and the days getting gradually colder and darker. A weak, low-hanging sun poked grudgingly through the small window of the box-bedroom study where I worked. In a week of solitary screen work and anxious doomscrolling, my Zoom classes became the one thing I looked forward to. The class of 2023 kept me going.

All lecturers moan about students a little, an inevitable symptom of generational differences and the stresses of the job. Why won’t they answer their emails? Why won’t they do the reading? Why won’t they get off their phones? But I will always have a soft spot for the class of 2023, who I didn’t meet IRL (as they would say) for a whole year, when their habit of waving goodbye before logging out of Zoom morphed into sweet thank yous as they left the physical classroom.

Generation Z is often accused of being fragile and mollycoddled. In truth, this generation feels powerless in a world that has failed them. Often already working long hours doing emotionally draining work in the gig economy, they face years of debt and precarity. They have good reason to feel troubled and are literate in the language of mental health to explain their distress.

In response, they are always being urged to acquire that voguish inner quality, resilience. But resilience is not some universal rocket fuel that we can top up on, serviceable in all situations. Students are, like all human beings, an unfathomable mix of brittleness and strength, weakness and wilfulness. They might be phobic about something I can do as easily as blinking and then blithely bat off something else that fills me with nameless dread. People are weird like that.

I don’t want to go back to online teaching, ever. But in that strange interregnum I did learn something about the many-sided nature of resilience.

I dislike the flexed-biceps-emoji, “you’ve-got-this” culture of positive thinking that has overtaken universities in recent years. The self-help and personal growth industries, where all this originates, are wrong to insist that the world is always solvable and that even the worst experiences can be turned into opportunities. Not every adversity is a chance to learn and grow. And no, despite what every graduation ceremony speaker seems to tell you, you can’t just achieve your dreams by never giving up.

But, still, it is amazing what you can survive. And when faced with a real, full-bore crisis, this generation of supposed snowflakes just got on with it and coped better than I did.

So, graduating class of 2023, I doff my floppy felt hat to you. If you can get through a degree with all that going on, I have high hopes for you. Now, if you wouldn’t mind sorting out the world, we’d all be very grateful. Sorry we left it in such a mess.

Joe Moran is a professor of English at Liverpool John Moores University.



  • 注册是免费的,而且十分便捷
  • 注册成功后,您每月可免费阅读3篇文章
  • 订阅我们的邮件
Please 登录 or 注册 to read this article.