Our pandemic half-lives

Saying goodbye to a classroom full of first-year college students in my writing class at the University of Pennsylvania earlier this month was more melancholy than usual. None of us had ever met in person. These young men and women had been flattened images on my laptop screen all semester — some of them Zooming in from a few miles away, others struggling to keep up from time zones on the other side of the planet.

When the time came to sign off on the last day of class, I told my students that they would look back on the pandemic of 2020 in the same way their grandparents or great-grandparents did with the doldrums of the Great Depression or the dread of World War II, when nothing less than the fate of liberal civilization seemed to be at stake.


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