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A University High School student wants to preserve our memories of the pandemic, large and small

Sirihaasa Nallamothu is the creator of The 20-Year Project.
Sirihaasa Nallamothu is asking people to preserve memories of the pandemic for future generations.

The pandemic has worn on for two years now and at times it feels like it may never end. But it will eventually ... to some degree. And when it does, what will happen to our memories of the health crisis that gripped the world?

Sirihaasa Nallamothu thinks those memories are important. So much so that she's conceived The 20-Year Project to commemorate the pandemic.

Nallamothu is a junior at University High School who's been collecting pictures, keepsakes, and other recollections about the pandemic from local residents. It will all be sealed in a time capsule on Feb. 26. The plan is to leave it sealed for the next 20 years.

Nallamothu was inspired to create the project after reading about the flu pandemic of 1918 in a textbook. She was disappointed to find the entire history of that pandemic condensed into a scant two paragraphs.

“I don't want my experiences to be summed up in two paragraphs in a textbook,” Nallamothu said. “It's so much more than that.”

So Nallamothu began brainstorming ways to preserve memories of the present pandemic. That way, she said, our individual and collective memories will never be reduced to just a handful of words.

Nallmothu has submitted her own “pandemic journal to the time capsule. She was inspired to do so after realizing that even now, she has difficulty recalling exactly what it felt like in early 2020. Looking back, she realized things weren’t always as bad as she remembered.

Nallmothu said, like her, many people have submitted items as a means of reflecting on their own changing impressions throughout the pandemic. ”So, I think this is an opportunity for people to reflect rather than forget.”

Nallmothu said some of her favorite submissions so far have been the kind of small, personal representations of the past two years: Pictures of vaccination cards and masks; signs in support of healthcare workers; and recollections of “drive-through birthday parties.”

There’s still time to submit items to the time capsule. Submissions will be accepted through February 23. The time capsule will be officially sealed on Feb. 26 and stored in Town of Normal facilities until 2042.

When it’s finally opened, Nallamothu said she hopes the items inside help people realize that during the pandemic, we were all navigating a very new and uncertain situation – and that we were doing our best.

“I hope they know that we made mistakes, but we still got through it. And we still are getting through it, and we're still learning,” she said.

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