A young woman in California, newly vaccinated, flashes a smile and a peace sign as she poses for a prom photos. She feels strange but elated without her mask.
In Australia, a girl still clings to the fluffy border collie her family got to comfort them in the depths of lockdown last year. Recently, she had to shelter at home again because of a COVID-19 outbreak near her.
A boy in remote northern Canada, now a young teenager, feels relief when he lifts his T-shirt sleeve for the first of two vaccine shots.
A baby-faced teenager in Rwanda who wanted to be a soldier has changed his mind. The pandemic, he says, has shown him a different way to help the world.
They’ve missed their friends, desperately. They’ve struggled at times to stay motivated and focus on school from home, if access to their studies was even available.
Most are still awaiting their chance to get vaccinated but want to do so.
They are anxious and happy and frustrated and hopeful, seemingly all at once. But they say the pandemic also has given them newfound resilience and an appreciation for even little things.
“I’m realizing that … if there’s an opportunity for memory making, you have to like go for it because there could be a chance that that opportunity will disappear,” said Michaela Seah, the young woman in California.
In March 2020, Michaela was isolating in her bedroom in Palo Alto, south of San Francisco. Sick with a fever, she stayed there for two weeks as a precaution to protect her family. It felt lonely, she said. But no one else got sick.
Little more than a year later, she walked across the stage at Palo Alto High School to receive her diploma. In early 2022, she will begin her freshman year at New York University with a semester in Paris.
“It’s a big jump,” the 18-year-old said.
The joy of rejoining the world — and especially reuniting with friends and extended family — seems to be a universal feeling.
“Being with them, hugging them,” said Elena Maria Moretti, a 12-year-old in Rome.
Last year, she was dancing hip hop alone in her bedroom and spraying disinfectant on packages her family got. Italy was among the first countries to experience huge death counts because of COVID-19.
Now wearing masks, she and her friends have been able to walk to school together and to study and visit at each other’s homes. Being separated from them for so long was “ugly,” she said.
Not everyone is feeling so free. In New Delhi, India, young brothers Advait and Uddhav Sanweria have sheltered at home for months as a second wave of COVID left more than 230,000 Indians dead in four months.
“We thought that the entire human population will be finished,” 10-year-old Advait said. “And Earth will remain nothing but an empty sphere with dead bodies.”
Uddhav, 9, still fears for their family, especially his grandparents, who’ve managed to stay well so far.
In Brazil, where the number of coronavirus cases is still surging, 16-year-old Manuela Salomao is frustrated with President Jair Bolsonaro, whose government repeatedly ignored opportunities to buy vaccines.
“The pandemic was not easy for a lot of people in Brazil. Many lost their jobs and could not socially distance because they needed to survive,” said Manuela, who lives in Sao Paolo.
The pandemic has caused her to grow up more quickly, she said — to become more empathetic, to think more critically and to study even harder.
In Melbourne, Australia, Niki Jolene Berghamre-Davis, who’s 12, just finished two weeks in lockdown. She’s relied on her family and their new dog Bailey to keep her company and learned to play the clarinet. She says online school helped her become more independent.
Niki knows other countries have had it much worse and is grateful that Australia has made it through the pandemic relatively unscathed.
“I would be really happy to spend time away,” she said.
Sweden, where her family has relatives, would be her first destination.
In some ways, life as he knew it has returned for Tresor Ndizihiwe, a 13-year-old in Kigali, Rwanda. He can play soccer with his friends again and help his mother carry home food from the markets.
But returning to school wasn’t easy. First, he learned how much worse COVID had been and how his mother had tried to protect him from the realities. He’d also fallen behind because he had no computer or TV to access classes during lockdown.
Tresor, a top student before the pandemic, is determined to catch up and spends time helping his younger siblings practice reading.
At the start of the pandemic, he said he wanted to be a soldier. Now, he plans to be a doctor, “so, if another pandemic arises, I can help.”
In Nunavut, a territory in far north Canada, Owen Watson, 13, had hoped the remoteness of his homeland would help keep people there safe.
For months, partly due to occasional lockdowns and strict travel bans, the small capital city where he lives, Iqaluit, had no documented cases of COVID. In April, that changed.
“It got pretty scary,” Owen said.
But he breathed easier when his parents got vaccinated. Then, in June, he got the first of two Pfizer shots, newly approved for his age group in some countries.
“I’m feeling a bit more calm now,” he said.
For Freddie Golden, a 17-year-old in Chicago, the state of the world is overwhelming in many ways. As young Black man, he watched last year’s news about the police killings of George Floyd and others with a heavy heart.
“I want to live life in a good way, not where bad things are continuously thrown at me,” said Freddie, who soon will begin his senior year at North Lawndale College Preparatory High School on the West Side.
His mother Wilonda Cannon watched as he struggled emotionally last year but also as he grew into a man, with broad, muscular shoulders and deepened voice. It was a reminder, she said, that time marched on.
“My family, especially my mom, helped pull me through,” said Freddie, who feels more ready to take on the world.
His big goal is to become an engineer – “to change the world with technology” — and play basketball in college. He has his sights set on Howard University in Washington.
“For kids my age … all across the world, it’s been a tough, stressful situation,” Freddie said. “But I feel like we all can push through. We all can do it.
“I feel like we deserve happiness.”