REEDS SPRING, Mo. – Paige Cyrus-Ham is a student success adviser. She counsels students at schools like Reeds Spring High School, and says the first worldwide pandemic in over a century will have a lasting impact.

“I feel like covid is going to be a generation defining moment for our students that are going through it now as well,” said Cyrus-Ham.

Many seniors throughout the country have just experienced a year in education like no other. Madison Stickle believes the lack of time in the classroom over the last year has had a negative impact as students plan for their futures.

“Start getting ready. Start looking at colleges. Talk to my college counselor,” said Stickle from Reeds Spring High School. “Get all that stuff done and I feel like that was all pushed into the beginning of senior year where it kind of just stressed us out even more. And I feel like that was hard on a lot of seniors this year.”

Cyrus-Ham believes that many students in the Ozarks are changing their plans to be closer to their families because of hardships faced throughout the pandemic.

“The financial situation that we’re in right now, especially in our tourism driven industry, our students are having to help their families more now than ever,” said Cyrus-Ham. “So that’s really affecting how they’re thinking about the future. This year, I only have I believe three students who are going out of state. One is going to Pitt State and two are going to Arkansas so it’s still very close. The motives for going to college or technical school are changing as well.”

Students across the country have faced their own hardships throughout the last years including isolation, quarantine, virtual learning and masking policies.

Jasmine White is a senior at Branson High School. She says wearing a masks was something difficult to get used to.

“You don’t have that super emotional connections with that.”

Even though this generation of students in the Ozarks have faced challenges and loss, they are refusing to let that define them. Many students like Luke McFerron, a student-athlete from Reeds Spring High School, have focused on getting healthier.

“I feel like it’s just helped me be healthier. Helped my family be healthier.”

It has also led to many graduating seniors searching for a way to learn more about careers in medicine.

“I’ve had students come to me and you know, what about being a surgical tech,” said Cyrus-Ham. “What about being a respiratory therapist? It’s been really neat to not have student lose faith in the process and keep going.”

Most importantly, this generation has learned a valuable life lesson that can only be taught through experiencing profound hardships.

“No matter what, what you face that we can do it. It doesn’t matter how hard it is. You’re going to get through and push through,” said White.

Only time will tell how this generation is defined by covid-19 and the pandemic, but with hope on the horizon and past generations to learn from, they’re prepared to keep moving forward.