Coming of age in COVID times: A pandemic marks a generation forever

TRI-COUNTY — For Kelly Baeza, a senior at Presidio High School, rodeo is a large part of her self-identity. In 2020, she had a goal: to compete in every rodeo and win the whole circuit.

Then the pandemic happened, and like people across the region and country, Baeza saw her plans upended. “All rodeos were canceled,” she said. “I was unable to meet one of my life goals.”

Baeza is not alone in her sadness as she looks back on the last year and the changes brought about by the pandemic. Isolation, boredom, closed schools, canceled events, dashed dreams and the fear of getting sick created never-before-seen challenges for teenagers coming of age in 2020. It was a year like no other, often a confusing and sometimes a depressing experience.

“It has been hard to be a teenager this past year,’’ Baeza said. “I was always at home, and most of that time was boring. I helped my mom with chores, watched Netflix, and used my phone for social media. But at some point everything was boring. I felt trapped.”

At Marfa High School, senior John Aguero says lockdown was tough. He got COVID and was stuck in a room at home for two weeks.

Aguero was in his third season as quarterback for the Marfa Shorthorns when the pandemic hit. Like Baeza, his dreams of reaching a competitive peak performance were devastated. About halfway through the season, games were canceled for two weeks.

‘’It broke our stride,’’ he says. “I really think the season could have been better if COVID hadn’t hit. It was a pretty rough loss, and sad at times, knowing that we could have made playoffs but didn’t,’’ he said, adding rather stoically, “It is what it is.’’

Aguero also had high hopes for the Marfa golf team. He expected the team to go to State, but golf was canceled completely. Fortunately, this year golf is happening.

Aguero’s case was mild and he has since recovered. He turned to songwriting as a way to express his feelings. “I’ve never written songs before,” he said, “but it was something to try.”

Odalys Charon, a junior at Marfa High School, faced challenges on the volleyball team. Lots of games were canceled. When she got COVID and had to quarantine for two weeks, she worried she would lose her spot on the team. Luckily, she didn’t.

She describes the past year as exhausting. Classes were canceled, moved online, moved back to the classroom and sometimes moved online again as teachers and students tested positive for COVID. The situation was fluid. Students struggled to adapt.

Juliet Guerrero, a freshman at Fort Davis High School, describes the year as “very stressful,” not just for her but for the whole family. Her family had to buy a computer for her to do homework, and the emailed assignments toppled into her inbox relentlessly. It was easy to get behind. Guerrero relied on her uncle to help her with Algebra 1.

Alan Cerda, a junior at the same school, had trouble with virtual learning at first. On campus, students are not allowed to have cell phones. At home, the phone was always right there, by his side, beckoning.

Then, boredom set in. “There was nothing to do at home,” he explains, and so studying became an alternative to nothing. Cerda and a friend would meet to talk chemistry, and they both discovered that learning was easier together. My friend understands some things and helped me,” Cerda explained, “and I understand stuff he doesn’t.’’

Over time, Cerda settled into online classes. ‘’At first I didn’t like it, then I started to like it, and then I wanted to do it,” he says. His grades improved, and he liked the freedom.

In Marfa, Charon says she struggled to focus from home, but “just got through it,’’ and in the end her grades didn’t suffer. She said shy classmates suffered the most because speaking up on Zoom can be intimidating.

Aguero was able to benefit when schools went to virtual learning. He is taking dual-credit classes and has earned 54 college hours already, so the adjustment was easier for him than for most students. His grades actually improved, in part because he saw his college instructors more frequently with virtual learning.

Many students say they relied on social media to stay in touch with friends during periods of isolation. But Aguero has an interesting viewpoint on this. “I don’t think social media is the most social place,’’ he said.

He says his generation are “not the best social creatures’’ and that social media can amplify introversion. The pandemic intensified social media and, with it, introversion. He fears that going forward, his generation will be even more introverted because of the pandemic.

The pandemic year has caused many students to reflect on life, what they value and lessons they’ve learned.

Baeza says the pandemic made her realize that things can change in a blink of an eye. She hopes with the progress being made to end the pandemic that things will return to normal and rodeos can start again.

Aguero says he realized he is more of an introvert than he thought. He loves sports but enjoys time alone more than being around others.

He’s been accepted to the honors mechanical engineering program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock and will start in the fall. He says he’ll play golf but let the other sports lapse.

For Guerrero, she always looked forward to the day when she would have her quinceañera: Dec. 20, 2020. She had participated in quinceañeras for many family members and friends, and she thought, “Someday, it will be my turn.”

In October, she and her mother shopped in El Paso and found the perfect dress, a pink princess dress with gold rhinestones. Guerrero beamed with happiness as she tried it on. But by November, COVID cases were rapidly increasing, and in December the family made the difficult decision to cancel the quinceañera. Fortunately, they had not paid for the dress. Guerrero has only a souvenir: a photo taken the day she looked like a princess.

“I looked forward to my quinceañera since I was a little girl,” Guerrero says. Then it was finally her turn, and she got to try on her special dress. But “everyone was asking, ‘What about the pandemic?’ And I thought: I am not going to have the quince.’’

 

Now, Guerrero accepts what happened. To make up for the lost quinceañera, family members are now talking about a Sweet 16 party. “That would be nice,’’ Guerrero says of that idea. “I would be grateful.”