Retail. A job synonymous with exploitation. A weekly slog of penny-pinching that we—my fellow cashiers and I—had endured for years on end. I was the lucky one. Still in high school, I had opportunity. Surrounding me each day were many who didn’t. Mothers and fathers stuck in a dead-end job stood aside failed entrepreneurs and corporate layoffs. The reality of working retail indefinitely left most of my coworkers in a state of permanent dejection. 

Until the world collapsed. 

Then, out of nowhere, we were celebrated. Our heroism and bravery were worshipped on national news all over the country. We had become essential. 

But had we? Most of us just proceeded as normal. We were the same exploited workers, doing the same mundane jobs, without any additional reward. It didn’t take long for us to see through the masquerade of praise. Even in a literal crisis, we were nothing more than PR pawns for the higher-ups of America. There was still no respect.

But I respected them. I respected them far more than any white-collar executive, because my coworkers had created a new definition of resiliency — one that will always make their roles essential to me.

Phil Lockitt is a sophomore studying Advertising in the Newhouse School of Public Communications. Outside of class, he can be found in a variety of student organizations across campus, such as the TNH student-run Ad Agency or Z89 Radio, where he co-hosts a Friday morning talk show.