Many years ago (sometime in the late 1990s) one cohort of my recreation management graduate program had an unusual number of students who were not traditional twenty-two year old white kids straight out of their undergraduate programs. Out of fifteen first-year graduate students, there was a military veteran, an African American, a slightly older single mom, and five people from countries other than the United States. Because of this make up of students, I applied for and received a small grant to hire someone to teach one of my undergraduate courses, so I could be freed up to offer a one-time graduate class in comparative leisure. Comparative leisure is a fancy term for studying leisure habits and leisure attitudes across cultures and nations.

On the first day of class, I wanted to demonstrate the different backgrounds within the group, so I asked each student to list the most significant events in their lives. The items on the list could not be personal family matters, but had to be events of national or international significance. Since I was considerably older than all of the students, I gave them my Top Five list as an example and felt certain that their events would not overlap with mine.  I wrote on the chalk board (pre-white board) 1) JFK assassination, 2) Robert Kennedy assassination, 3) Vietnam 4) first man on the moon, and 5) Watergate. 

When we went through the students’ lists, two things stood out. First of all, it became obvious to everyone that the twenty-two year old American students had lived through a very quiet time. September 11 had not yet occurred. Every student had “Jessica in the well” on their lists, and I had to be reminded what “Jessica in the well” was. The second thing was that the life of the woman from the Eastern Adriatic stunned everyone. She’d lived through the fall of her country (Yugoslavia), the total devaluation of her country’s currency, and a couple of other things that dropped everyone else’s jaw. While not even on her list, she told us that her penniless family had snuck out of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the dead of night.

Memories of this class came to mind as I reflect on the impacts of the coronavirus. The pandemic will be on the Top Five list of my daughter Clare and on the Top Five list of all of her friends. However, unless something significant changes, it won’t be on mine. At this point in my life, I don’t know if any piece of national or international news could touch me in the ways I was touched by events when I was ten, fifteen, twenty years old. Those events made me who I am, and now I’m pretty much a finished product. Election night 2008 gave me goosebumps, but even Barack Obama in the White House has not left an impression as strong as Watergate or the first man on the moon. How will the coronavirus shape my daughter?

Steven Simpson