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'You are part of this response': Walz answers student journalists on pandemic, managing mental health and our divided country

"You're seeing this, and I just can't believe you think this is the best way to live," he told students of the nation's divisive climate.
Governor Tim Walz

During Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's press briefing on Friday, high school student journalists took the reins. 

It was the first time Walz has held such an event, a spokesperson said, and similar events may be on the way. 

Around a dozen student journalists from Stillwater High School, St. Louis Park High School, East Ridge High School in Woodbury and South High School in Minneapolis attended through an application process organized by the Journalism Educators of Minnesota. 

Most of the questions centered around student life amid the pandemic, but the conversation also included homelessness and voting. In addressing homelessness, Walz emphasized the need for interagency partnerships — something he says has become more common as the state navigates the pandemic. He also stressed the safety and validity of voting by mail in Minnesota. 

Below are a selection of questions pertaining to student life and young people, ranging from the logistics of attending school during the pandemic, advice for navigating the country's divisive climate as young people and how Walz maintains his own mental health. Throughout his answers, Walz encouraged students to "live in the moment" as things rapidly change. He instructed students to lead by example by following safety guidelines and committing to civility by centering debates on facts. 

The full conference can be viewed here: 

Walz's responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. 

Student journalist: As schools return to hybrid and in-person models without a vaccine, what's something you want students to understand? 

"I hope that people in Minnesota are seeing that our young people are not preparing to live your lives — you are living your lives right now. You are part of this response. This will shape your life experience. You will be the generation that went to school during this time."

"I think what I would hope is that always we focus on  your health, safety and well being. That well-being piece means — we would all be much better if we didn't have to do this, if this virus wasn't putting us at risk, and we could be doing things like we used to do."

"The thing I would say is — some of the things we used to do were not working, and we did it just because that's the way we did it. So I think the message that I would say is: live in the moment of this experience ... Each of you are leading. Someday one of you will be up here, sitting in these seats, asking to lead the state, the country. Take what you are learning from this moment, and see that as the positive you are getting."

Walz continued: "Friday nights in the fall were the greatest time of my life. I loved being out there coaching football on a cool fall night, and ... it really mattered. It can't be that way right now, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t learning or taking away things from this." 

"I know how hard this is ... It's changing your lives in way that is sometimes inconvenient, and other times horrific ... My hope is, and the lesson I hope you take away from this is, you are going to come out of your high school experience this year with experiences no one else has had. And I think taking those and turning those into a strength, makes me look to the future." 

Student journalist: Students are growing up in perhaps the most divided time in American history, save for the American Civil War or the American Revolution. They’re emulating behavior that leads to divisiveness, toxicity, close-mindedness towards other points of view. What advice would you give to students to help bridge the divide?

“Hurry up and assume positions of authority so your generation can help fix this,” Walz started.

He continued: “I think you have to model this. I feel a sense of responsibility for this. I’m the governor. If I choose to partake in divisive politics or divisive language, it’s going to add to that. So I think that’s one of the things we can do.”

“There is a healthy place to debate policy and ideology - things like tax policy ... things like, what is transportation going to look like? Trying to ground those around a set of facts we can agree on and decide how we’re going to tackle that.”

“Progress has been made. We know more needs to be done. So, that sense of, forge a more perfect union, and each generation — this took me til I was older, I think you’re probably much brighter and figured it out earlier — a lot of these debates and fights that we thought were settled have to be re-litigated by each generation. You’re seeing this, and I just can’t believe you think this is the best way to live. I can't believe you think this is the best way to govern. I can’t believe you think divisiveness and chaos is a model that society should be founded on. And I’m not asking you in any way to compromise on one bit of your ideology, from conservative to liberal to whatever it might be, but how we go about conducting it matters.”

Student journalist: Minnesotans of all backgrounds have come to you with questions seeking guidance and support, and I’m just wondering: how do you deal with the stress that comes with this, and how do maintain good mental health during this pandemic?

"I tell people I was well prepared for this. My first year in the high school lunchroom, a freshman was choking on a polish dog and I gave him the Heimlich … for the next 19 years, I got lunchroom duty. So I’m used to just, kinda, (being) calm, and things happen."

"In all reality, I think what I do is — like so many, I’ve had to refocus. I know some of you might not know this about me by looking at me, but I run five days a week, about five miles at a time … And then I think, for me, it’s getting with the experts, and digging down into the details, and formulating plans. Because, what I think, for most people … the hardest thing in a situation like this is feeling like things are out of your control, not knowing when things are going to end. Having no predictability in your life… So for me it’s staying well versed with what these experts are teaching me."

"I will say the one blessing for many of us is … I have eaten more meals with my 14-year-old son than I have in a long time. He may disagree and be embarrassed for me to say that, but we spend a lot more time together. I am now becoming well versed in anime — who would have ever known I’d need that? But I know the difference between “Naruto” and Attack on Titan. And so, it’s that part of it — reconnecting. The thing i do miss, and i know you're in this too, the social aspects of what makes life so enjoyable and that makes us so truly human, having that taken from us is just maddening … I think it’s trying to focus on physical health, trying to focus on family, and then trying to control what we can control.” 

Student: Are there any misconceptions that you believe students may believe, that you would like to clear up?

"I hope [what students think] is everything we’re doing is in the best interest of you, and I think every society focuses on our children, because it’s not a cliche — you are our future.

“I hope that it has not felt like decisions have been made that are depriving you of the opportunity to do those high school rites of passage that every other group got to do and you got denied. I hope that’s not [what students think] — I don’t believe so, but I’ve got a freshman at the University of Minnesota and an eighth grader. I’m listening to what they’re saying and what they're hearing. So I hope that’s not out there, but I do worry about that.”

“I worry we’re not doing enough … This isn’t just about numbers, disease … I hope we start to see everybody as an individual. Going back to this question about the division and some of that — I would hope people come away with a kind and compassionate heart for everybody, and that includes elected officials. They have families, they have kids out there, they’re trying to get this right. And for the young people, I hope you know that’s true."

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