Katie Passarello '21
GenZ(oom): Passionate, Creative, and Breaking the Status Quo
When I think of our generation — our loud, chaotic, groundbreaking generation — one word comes particularly to mind: fast.
Goodbye patience, hello rapid response culture. Our generation’s capacity to read, see, and hear news, and then absorb, digest, and regurgitate it is astounding. While our parents spent their Sunday mornings idly reading the paper (if you’re reading this dad: it’s not an insult, I love Sunday mornings at the kitchen table with you) our generation has already created a petition and taken to the streets in response to yesterday’s news.
So what happened when the world stopped in March? When we went from a normal almost-spring to sudden lockdown? When fear erupted around a global pandemic, and the world was told to pause?
Well, we got going. We got creative. We got passionate about the things in this world we supposedly wouldn’t be able to change. And while the world held its breath, we finally took a deep one of our own; the kind that lifts your heart out of your stomach and says, ‘yes, you were built for this moment.’
Confined to our childhood bedrooms, and stripped of our coveted social interactions, Gen Zers had our worlds flipped on us. The fast paced go-go-go lifestyle we grew up in and shaped as our own was suddenly reverted back to those lazy Sunday mornings at the kitchen table. And while it took a solid month or two of tears, homemade banana bread and sourdough starters, and lots of Zoom happy hours, we finally got our feet underneath us. So, as the world continued to fall apart, we started to get ours together.
Then, on May 25th — just days after the US surpassed 100,000 COVID-19 deaths — George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police. And we woke back up. We traded our sourdough starters for anti-racism books and resources, and began to engage more deeply with the social media outlets we already used too much: turning them into platforms for social change. Many also took to the streets.
In over 40 countries, and on all continents except Antarctica, Black Lives Matter protests exploded, generating what has become the largest civil rights movement since the 1960s. The pain, heartbreak, and frustration felt by Black Americans for generations finally hit home for many White people. The empathy and desire for lasting, structural change born out of this movement has fundamentally changed the way many people view issues of race, equality, and justice. We put our foot down, and we lit up the conversation on what we want our futures to look like.
My small piece in this huge movement came in the form of a website called The Impact Zone, where my best friend Claire and I crowdsourced good news, uplifting stories, and innovative projects that Gen Zers were working on during quarantine. What started as a small-scale project, quickly turned into an ode to Gen Z and the powerful work our generation is doing in response to the injustices and life-shattering events that have defined 2020. Over the course of the spring and into summer, Claire and I FaceTimed, Zoomed, and called with people from across the world. From New Jersey to New Zealand, to Sweden and in between, we uncovered a movement of Gen Zers who decided that settling for lockdown would not suffice: they had companies to build, projects to start, and lives to change. Among the stories we told:
A group of students from The Claremont McKenna schools hosted a virtual music festival featuring 17 artists that raised over $2,000 for students disproportionately impacted by COVID.
A recent Chapman University graduate started Simplified, an Instagram dedicated to breaking-down difficult policy initiatives and motivating Gen Z to become more engaged voters. The account now has 54,000 followers.
A group of Stanford product designers started &papaya, a clothing line based entirely on deadstock fabric. Amplifying sustainability in the fashion industry, &papaya is revolutionizing fast fashion. Their first launch sold out in three minutes and their TikTok now has nearly 80,000 followers.
We have been formed in these moments of chaos; born out of a time of uncertainty and motivated by a desire to change the things that don’t serve us. While for many, the pandemic meant slowing down and locking up, lots of Gen Zers created their own opportunities. Burning bridges with a past rooted in racism, inequality, and a disregard for the stunning planet we live on, and creating a future they actually want to see. A future that moves away from the destruction of COVID, and towards some of the beauty that it has unearthed: political and social activism, sustainability, and a fierce desire for a better tomorrow.