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Teaching us: The wisdom of youth in the age of coronavirus

05 / 16 / 2020

Maeve Levy has the kind of heart that makes you believe she was born to help others. A junior at the University of Iowa who turns 21 next week, she’s totally immersed in her program in the School of Social Work.

Like 34,000 other Hawkeyes, Maeve misses being on campus. She was finishing up her final exams back home in Oak Park, Illinois last week when I reached out and asked her about her college experience in the age of coronavirus.

Maeve’s well aware that college is supposed to be the time when students have the chance to come into their own. In fact, she says it’s her more recent development that’s made this mid-semester breach all the more disappointing:

“It seemed to have happened at a time where everything was aligning in my life, so to have those things stripped away from me so abruptly has definitely been hard to come to terms with.”


Maeve Levy (right) with her classmates at Rienow Hall in Iowa City.


Yet like millions of other American students, she’s powering through the crisis. Moreover, she says she’s extracted an essential lesson from it:

“In a way it’s been a reality check, even when life lately has felt like anything but real. I’ve become more cognizant of how time, much like this virus, is not always on our side, and, therefore, should be taken full advantage of. I’ve adopted the mindset of wishing to seize every opportunity and moment that comes my way, since I’m now aware that reality has the potential to change in an instant.” 

Two thousand miles away, students at Fresno State are navigating similar challenges. I spoke with a group of them only hours after the Chancellor, who oversees all 23 California State Universities, announced the cancellation of in-person classes this fall. 

If the directive holds, it’ll affect more than 700,000 students in the Golden State. 

Fresno State students Gabe Camarillo, Ishshah Padilla and Cruz Gonzales are all studying in the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism. They miss each other. They miss learning together. 

Ishshah is working her way through school as a custodian for the local school district. She treasures every hour at Fresno State, and was pumped to take the “Fresno State Focus TV Newscast” class in the fall. Ishshah describes the shutdown’s impact on her track this way: 

“I think one of the biggest difficulties was the whole online transition. I’m a visual learner. I want to be in the classroom. I want to be in the studio, which we do have at school. Even with Zoom calls and everything, it doesn’t give me that personal contact that we need. Maybe because we’re in broadcasting, we want that face-to-face. We want those conversations. And I find that online, it just isn’t the same.”

Ishshah Padilla is heading into her senior year at California State University, Fresno.


Yet she plows ahead. They all do. And just like Maeve, they’re living the lessons. Gabe puts it this way: 

“I’d say what I’ve learned the most is just time management because this really forces you to become more of a time manager. It’s easier to go to school and go to the library and commit yourself to studying. But with this, it’s so tempting. You have lots of different distractions at home. So really, it’s building more of a work ethic within me because it’s causing me to be more diligent.” (watch Gabe, Ishshah and Cruz on The Golden Mean Podcast)

Gabe Camarillo just finished his freshman year in the Department of Media, Communication and Journalism at Fresno State.


Given that these three students were in the journalism program, I asked them what they thought of the way that we’re all being bombarded with “news” from a seemingly infinite number of media sources. They immediately got the question. Cruz says he’s thought plenty about it: 

“You have all of this stuff drowning your feed, and it kind of creates a blur. It’s crazy because you’re like, ‘Well, is this real?’ And a lot of us want to believe it’s not, but the numbers are also there. So, are they right or are they wrong? And I think it’s one of those things where you have to find the middle ground in between and shoot for that. But that’s the hard part — because where is that middle ground?”

Twenty-one years old and already searching for The Golden Mean. Cruz is contemplating what’s really true — and how will it affect his decision-making. Are we all doing the same?  

Unsurprisingly, I’ve sensed a palpable sadness in all of the students I’ve spoken to. The uncertainty of the predicament has made the stoppage of on-campus classes all the more frustrating. At the very same time, they all seemed to fully realize that in some ways their fortitude is being strengthened by the coronavirus crisis. 

Their answers reminded me of the David Bowie song “Changes,” where Bowie describes children as “quite aware of what they’re going through.” The late filmmaker John Hughes used the lyric to introduce “The Breakfast Club.” And while Hughes was applying the verse to high schoolers in his movie, the song title and the words definitely describe these college students.  

They’re making the absolute best out of a crap situation. They have much to teach us.