2020 was a crazy year. The world experienced an insurmountable amount of loss, disaster and chaos. However, through the mess, we forged a society that was stronger and more connected. We adapted to the pandemic lockdown situation and lifted each other up. We survived natural climate disasters. We empowered others to join global motions for reform.
And we started Voyagers, a Gen Z platform and community to work with and empower sustainability and innovation in businesses. At the forefront of those movements? Our generation: Gen Z — those born in the mid-to-late 1990s through the early 2010s.
Here are Gen Z’s wins and losses for 2020, from some of our members.
"This year, I lived on campus at Purdue University. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, dining courts have been to-go only this semester, and all the food is served in plastic takeout containers. A lot of other students and I do our best to reduce plastic use, so we choose not to use the plastic bags or straws and try to get the fewest plastic containers we can."
— Sam Burow-flak, freshman, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
"In California, wildfires ran rampant in 2020. It was normal to wake up to the news alerting me of another fire that had just started. Regularly, the air quality became too dangerous for outdoor sports, canceling any practices. Exacerbated by climate change, wildfires became much more common."
— Vera Luu, grade 12, Marina High School, Huntington Beach, California
"The greatest silver lining of COVID-19 is the global change in perspective. Often, global issues only affect certain groups of people, but the pandemic affected everyone in some way. COVID-19 forced people to slow down, stay home and reflect. As a result, many people became more thankful, spent more time with their family and made important lifestyle changes for themselves and the planet."
— Caleigh Campbell, senior, Ivey Business School at Western University, Ontario, Canada
"With the weight of important issues like the pandemic and racial justice, the election was a stressful time for me as a Nigerian-American student. I knew the outcome of it would greatly impact my life, so the uncertainty and the drawing out of the election made it hard to even get sleep at night, much less focus on schoolwork as well."
— Oluseyi Ogundipe, freshman, Stanford University, Stanford, California
"I still remember watching TV with my younger sister as Kamala Harris, our nation’s first female vice president-elect, took the stage to deliver her victory speech. It was a jubilant, powerful moment for women across the country, and was a huge step in shattering racial and gender barriers in the U.S."
— Devishi Jha, grade 12, Valparaiso High School, Valparaiso, Indiana
"My university imposed grab-and-go dining halls, providing compostable plates and utensils, but plastic bottles and paper bags. I was determined to compost and avoid single-use plastic to decrease my footprint; however, I was in the minority. I believe the issue is convincing people of their self-efficacy rather than the importance of sustainability; just as "every vote counts" so does every plastic bottle, especially over the long term among the masses. People just need to be empowered."
— Charlie Weissman, freshman, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
"COVID-19 has challenged many to be creative in a home setting. What better way than to experiment with mindful cooking? I challenge myself and you to a zero-waste food regime where you maximize your food output while reducing waste headed to the landfill! Whether it be repurposing, composting or avoiding single-use plastics — get to cooking!"
— Katrina Marie Wynne, junior, Western University, Canada, Ontario, Canada
"The Black Lives Matter movement was a crucial part of this past year. It affected many people and helped me come to the realization of some harsh truths. It also pushed me to teach myself information about topics such as systemic racism and how it is embedded in our society."
— Kamaldeep Dhillon, grade 12, Lincoln M Alexander SS, Ontario, Canada
"Uproar in the U.S. due to systemically ingrained racism, millions of Indian farmers protesting in Delhi, and the fight for climate justice — 2020 taught me that we have to bring power back to the people. Unity, justice and sustainability should revolve around how we recover from this pandemic."
— Theresa Rose Sebastian, fifth year, Mount Mercy College, Cork, Ireland
"Los Angeles is on fire. Mumbai is flooding. Mexico City has no water. Miami is going underwater. After everything that’s happened this year, it’s clearer than ever that climate change is real and its impacts are global. For me and many other Gen Zers out there, 2020 marks yet another year that the global community has failed to adequately address the climate crisis."
— Sofia Penttila, grade 9, Notre Dame High School, San Francisco Bay Area, California
"More than anything, 2020 has been full of trials and tribulations, but it has not fallen short of successes. From the first female VP-elect to the rising [Black Lives Matter] movement, we have strived to make a better society. We have been through conflict, felt loss and seen the world seemingly crumble into pieces, yet we are still standing, stronger than ever, ready to tackle 2021 and whatever craziness it will bring. There is still so much left to do; we are ready to bring change."
— Srilekha Cherukuvada, grade 12, Westwood High School, Austin, Texas
All Gen Zs featured in this article are Voyagers Ambassadors. For more information on Voyagers, visit www.bevoyagers.org or http://instagram.com/bevoyagers.