How does our history shape who we are, and who we hope to become? My Lowell High School students and I contemplated these questions as we studied the long fight for equity and justice in the United States. What a moment for reflection — while enduring lockdowns and remote learning triggered by the pandemic, and while witnessing the long-overdue national reckoning about deep-seated racial injustice.

Spring brought a partial return to the classroom. But we are emerging changed. Changed by isolation, doubt, grief, and exhaustion. Changed by seeing systemic inequality laid bare by the virus and by violence against people of color.

My students captured their transformations in a book we published this spring as part of the national We Are America Project that I launched with students in 2019, aiming to spark conversations about the many dimensions of American identity. Since then, we have worked with teachers across the country whose students shared their stories in books and on our website.

My students and their peers nationwide, transformed by this year, will shape the future of the country. Four of my students courageously share their stories here.