NOEL KING, HOST:
We're going to hear now from some young people, many of whom feel like they lost a year of their youth during the pandemic. Here's NPR's Eva Tesfaye.
EVA TESFAYE, BYLINE: Remember the Roaring '20s when people partied a century ago? It also came after a pandemic. And some people in their 20s are hoping that as the current pandemic ends, the 2020s will roar as well.
GABBY LAROCHELLE: I'm so excited.
TESFAYE: After Gabby LaRochelle got her first dose of the vaccine, she reached out to her friends to make travel plans for this summer.
LAROCHELLE: So I was the one who was like, we need to hang out. We need to hang out. We need to hang out. And they're like, listen, Gabby, we need to get our shots first.
TESFAYE: LaRochelle understands where her friends are coming from. The pandemic has also made her less spontaneous than she used to be.
LAROCHELLE: I would just be like we'll see what happens. And that's life. C'est la vie (laughter). And I'm like, who is this Gabby? Like, I don't know her. I would have been gotten a nose ring by now. But now, I'm just scared.
TESFAYE: She's nervous about interacting with people but still wants to live her life and do the things she hasn't been able to do during the pandemic.
JAMES BRADLEY: I feel like I'm missing something, but I don't exactly know what I'm missing.
TESFAYE: James Bradley isn't sure what he's missing because he was not much of a party person before the pandemic. He's in his final year at the University of Montana. And after receiving both doses, he feels like he wants to try to be more social now that he's of drinking age. He celebrated his 21st birthday by himself during the pandemic, and it was underwhelming.
BRADLEY: I sat alone at home and, at 1 in the morning, went and bought a six-pack. They didn't even card me because it was 1 in the morning, and I looked sad. It was a little rough, not going to lie. But yeah, I mean, I guess I just have to make up for it when I'm 22.
TESFAYE: A lot of young people have been changed by the pandemic. Whether they're becoming more cautious now, like LaRochelle or more of a party person like Bradley, there's a ton of anticipation for what the coming months may bring.
ADRIANA TRIGO: We're dancing. You know what - maybe a little side to side. You need to be able to dance in these.
TESFAYE: Adriana Trigo is preparing for this summer by practicing her dance moves in heels that she hasn't worn in forever.
TRIGO: Yeah, I'm going crazy. Like, I'm not (laughter) - yeah, I'm absolutely going nuts. Like, this last year of, like, just being so enclosed - like, I don't want to get to the point in my life where I'm, like, tied down from family, from work, from whatever and I didn't make the most of, like, my youth and making bad decisions that sometimes aren't permanent.
TESFAYE: Even bad decisions you make when you're dating and partying.
TRIGO: Life is too short to not get drunk with your friends. And I feel like life is too short to not try to find love. (Laughter) It's kind of cringe, but, you know - I don't know. I'm excited.
KIRA POMERANZ: The whole point of, like, going out in college is some of it is just, like, grimy and nasty.
TESFAYE: What Georgetown University senior Kira Pomeranz misses about pre-pandemic partying is far less romantic.
POMERANZ: And, like, we miss nastiness. It's like have you ever seen, like, a frat floor? You know that that's disgusting.
TESFAYE: It was nasty, but at least she was with her friends. And the thing is, she feels like the pandemic has been all about sacrificing mental health in exchange for physical health.
POMERANZ: Mentally, I just - I need to be around other people my age to some extent. And I think a lot of young people really genuinely do need that.
SARAH LIPSON: There have been so many really difficult trade-offs.
TESFAYE: Sarah Lipson is professor of health at Boston University. She says the impact of the pandemic has been spread unevenly between age groups. She explains it with a concept called disease burden.
LIPSON: So for, you know, older populations, when you think about chronic health conditions like, you know, diabetes or heart disease - those are large burdens of disease in older populations. But in younger populations, it is mental health that is the largest burden of disease for young people in the United States and worldwide.
TESFAYE: And many young people are hurting because of the pandemic. According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from last year, 1 in 4 people between 18 and 24 reported having seriously considered suicide. Lipson says socializing again can help people cope with the loneliness, isolation and financial stress that got worse during the pandemic. But it won't get rid of these mental health risk factors entirely.
LIPSON: People can be really excited and experience joy and the opportunities to connect with people that they haven't seen face to face. And at the same time also that there's a lot of grief and a lot of anxiety, and those are going to kind of coexist, I think.
TESFAYE: Joy and grief will likely coexist for 23-year-old Nikka Duerte. She thinks they will. Though, she says, getting the vaccine lifted a huge weight off her shoulders.
NIKKA DUERTE: God, it was amazing. I - driving back from, like, the vaccine, I felt hope for the first time in a while. And that was a big deal.
TESFAYE: This summer, Duerte wants to open up her home in Atlanta to her vaccinated friends. And the way she talks about it sounds a little like the 1920s novel "The Great Gatsby."
DUERTE: I want my friends and I to, like, be as extravagant as we want to be and do costumes if we want or, like, do themed parties, like just silly things like that because I think we have a lot to mourn but also a lot to celebrate coming out of this. So, yeah, I'm ready for the Roaring '20s (laughter).
TESFAYE: At the same time, Duerte doesn't want to forget the social issues that were brought to the forefront this past year. She lives close to where an Atlanta police officer fatally shot Rayshard Brooks, a Black man just a few years older than her.
DUERTE: But I guess I just worry that all of, like, the Roaring '20s will kind of come out of it, and we might get a little bit distracted. And I hope that doesn't happen. Again, that's up to every individual. But that is something that has kind of been in the back of my mind.
TESFAYE: As young people get excited about making up for a lost year and then some, many are still proceeding cautiously and with the hope that the blessings of the post pandemic era will be shared equitably. Eva Tesfaye, NPR News.
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KING: If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, there are free, trained counselors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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