Over the course of the past few weeks, the school where I teach high school seniors has been transitioning from all virtual learning to a hybrid model. Just like a year ago, we are working through a time of dramatic change. For educators, this has been both an exciting and difficult time. Of course, we are all excited to be reunited with our students and fellow faculty members, but at the same time, we are embarking in the daunting task of traversing the ongoing pandemic and what exactly a hybrid classroom will look like.

As we enter this new period of change, it is important we pause and reflect. It is easy to get caught up in all the moving parts, new challenges, and hustle and bustle around a newly active campus. Yet, it is important we remember this last year and especially remember the sacrifices our students have made. This year has been very hard on us educators, but it has been just as, or even more, difficult on our students.

Speaking of my own students, I cannot express how truly proud of them I am. Their efforts deserve all of our acknowledgement and praise. I know many of us want to push forward and forget the past year, but it would be a disservice to them to move on without giving them their due credit.

My over one hundred and twenty students showed up each and every day, even when they were tired or not in the mood to sit in front of a computer for hours. They willingly worked with me to make their virtual educational experience as fruitful as possible. And most importantly, they helped each other get through this once in a generation global pandemic, sharing words of encouragement and uplifting those students who were having a hard time.

Context here is important. The COVID-19 pandemic is not only one of the worst in American history, but the entire history of the world. Our students selflessly took this threat seriously, putting their own lives on hold, locking down, and keeping their distance. My students lost sports seasons. They lost homecomings, social gatherings, and weekends out with friends. They lost the ability to be in the physical presence of their teachers and counselors as they applied for college and tried to figure out what was next for them. They lost one of the most exciting times of many peoples’ lives. This is and was a tremendous sacrifice.

I truly believe this generation of students was uniquely equipped to handle this crisis. A blessing to our entire community. Reflecting on my own millennial generation back in high school, I do not know if we would have handled it with such selfless grace.

This generation of students truly cares for one another. Not just in a superficial way, but in a very real, sincere way. They believe in social justice. They believe in equality. And they believe in the collective strength of one another.

While adults in Washington politicized the very real threat of COVID-19, my students did what they needed to do with little or no complaint.

They did this because they understood their own self-betterment and future was intrinsically tied to others’. In this sense, the older generations should look to them. Just like adults have much to teach them, they have much to teach adults. Therefore, as we phase out of the virtual world and reenter the physical classroom, let us all take the time to reflect and say to our students, “Thank you!” Your sacrifices will not be forgotten.

Michael T. Barry Jr. is a doctoral candidate in history at American University and an educator at Montgomery College and Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville.