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Gen Z and the pandemic: Orlando pair on how COVID changed their young lives

David Perez (l) & Maximilian Harmanoglu.
David Perez, left, is a FSU student who lived in Orlando, and Maximilian Harmanoglu, is a Valencia College graduate.

On WMFE's Intersection, two zoomers talk about how the last two years have affected their education, social life and mental health.

American COVID-related deaths has passed 900,000 last month – and many epidemiologists say that’s likely an undercount. Millions of people have been infected with COVID, many of them long-haulers with lingering symptoms. But even for those who didn’t get sick or didn’t lose someone to COVID, it still has been hugely disruptive. 

Floridians finishing high school and heading to college in early 2020 had their worlds turned upside down by the pandemic. They missed out on milestone events like prom and graduation. 

On WMFE's Intersection, two Generation Z Floridians talk about how the last two years have gone: Maximilian Harmanoglu, a Valencia College graduate who is a part-owner of Versus Games in Oviedo, and David Perez, a Florida State University student who lived in Orlando and was a Disney cast member this past summer. 

When the pandemic hit, Harmanoglu was a few months into living at the apartment of his dreams at the University of Central Florida’s Hub. 

“I had just moved into Hub in 2019, in August. So, I had maybe five months of enjoying this, you know, beautiful place before then it went to a ghost town,” he says.

Harmanoglu says he didn’t want to move back home to South Florida and lose his lease, but he was reluctant to take online classes, too.

“So instead of taking my four classes per semester that I was looking forward to … instead of doing that, I was only taking one or two classes per semester because I was like, 'Oh, it’ll open up.'

“I lost motivation, in general, I just stayed in my apartment for months and months on end, looking at that, nothing.”

Harmanoglu says his mental health suffered, but eventually he was able to meet people, start a business and adapt to pandemic life.

“So, it gave a lot of avenues. But it took a lot of avenues away at the same time, or at least changed direction,” he says.

Perez says he feels like he missed out on milestone events.

“Because of COVID, my last month of my high school career was essentially stripped away from me. Gone, and there’s nothing we can do to ever get that back," Perez says. "I constantly think about the fact of one day when I have kids, when my child comes up to me and is like,' Hey, Dad, how was your prom night?' Well, guess what, we didn’t have one. We didn’t have a graduation.”

Perez adds that he got COVID twice.

“My mental health steadily declined, it hit me like a bus. And, luckily, I was not as affected financially or health wise. And always, I’m grateful for that. But definitely, socially, it made a big impact in my life.”

Despite the challenges, Perez says he’s tried to stay positive:

“I truly believe that in moment of darkness, we should seek to find the light to guide our way out of it. And that’s why I decided to move to Orlando during this period of time last summer and make the most out of my time, and hence, I never would have believed it, but I’m proud to say that I was a cast member this past summer. And it was definitely a good experience.”

Copyright 2022 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Matthew Peddie