GRAND FORKS -- High school seniors in Grand Forks are dealing with a highly abnormal situation, due to the coronavirus pandemic, as they make their way through the final weeks of their high school careers -- and it’s taking a toll, says one member of the Class of 2020.
“As a student in the Grand Forks community, it’s obviously not the way we thought things would pan out, especially looking forward to the senior year,” said Gary Wu, a senior and member of Grand Forks Central High School’s Student Council.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Wu said. “You can feel it, even in online classes, people aren’t really feeling energetic.”
He and a few of his friends decided to do something about it: They’ve started the ShareThePositivityND social media campaign as a means of spreading positive messages and tips by mental health professionals to maintain or improve mental health and to counter the negativity that can so easily take root.
The hash tag has accumulated more than 10,000 views on multiple social media platforms, according to Wu, noting that, with each new video, there’s more exposure.
Those who want to get involved may send their own messages.
“It’s optional if they want us to share it,” said Wu, underscoring that his fellow students are dispirited, in light of what everyone is going through.
“I’ve definitely noticed it and so have friends and parents, and it’s also not just the students who are feeling this sort of doubt and this lack of positivity. It’s anyone who’s affected, which is pretty much everyone, we’re sort of in a new situation," he said. "We’ve just got to start sharing the positivity more.”
Wu is leading the ShareThePositivityND campaign with the help of Megan Peck, a senior at Grand Forks Central High School, Shri Patel, a junior at Red River High School, and Carter Swanson, a junior at Grand Forks Central High School.
“Because we couldn’t really do an in-person positivity campaign, we thought that doing an online challenge would help spread the word even better than it would be in person," Wu said.
To participate, post a 20- to 30-minute video to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and share a positive message; in the caption, write #ShareThePositivityND; and then tag @sharethepositivityND and three people to continue the effort.
“If participants want their message shared on our official social medical page, they should direct-message our Instagram or Twitter @sharethepositivitynd,” Wu said.
“Through these videos, people can tag their friends and so it can become a community thing, not just one person posting a video,” he said. “It’s more, let’s keep it moving through different sorts of communities, so the togetherness that we sort of feel by sharing these messages is going to make you feel better. It’s good to see that from people you know.”
Wu and his friends have engaged Grand Forks school administrators, statewide student-led organizations, mental health professionals and city government officials to advance the project.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that ShareThePositivityND is growing because it proves that the community is working together when we need it most,” Patel said.
“ShareThePositivityND gives our community the opportunity to come together, be involved and challenge others to continue the spread of positivity during these unusual times," Swanson said.
Mental health advice is “really valuable,” Wu said, but some students lack awareness of or are unable to access mental health services, and the ShareThePositivityND campaign could help to bridge that gap.
“I think mental health and positivity of students is just as, or even more important, than what they can learn over this next month in an online class,” Wu said, adding that “students’ mental health in general -- not just in a pandemic situation -- and their mental well-being should be prioritized.”
Teachers and others “should probably first care about how your students are doing mentally," said Wu, noting that the support is needed to maintain student productivity. "Given how difficult it is to learn online, it matters even more.”
High school students are looking at a spring of disappointments -- lost social contact, sports contests, opportunities in the performing arts.
“(Seniors) are pretty bummed out,” he said. “The things they were looking forward to are gone.”
Questions surrounding whether the Class of ‘20 will be able to attend a prom or traditional graduation ceremony are still up in the air, Wu said.
“There’s not really a definitive answer anymore,” he said, noting that those plans depend on whether conditions improve.
“At the moment, we’re still hoping that things will get better and, eventually, we may possibly get some sort of alternative graduation,” Wu said.
In the meantime, he and his fellow students hope that others will help spread encouraging messages and that mental health professionals will join the campaign by sharing tips that help lighten the mood of people who may feel overwhelmed.
Wu would like to see the ShareThePositivityND campaign extend beyond Grand Forks, and messages are shared with students and others at a distance, he said.
“We hope as this grows, it makes people’s days better," he said.