It’s a first for everyone
September 1, 2021
When students departed for what we expected to be a two-week quarantine, I was a sophomore who had yet to experience a full year at the Upper School. I hadn’t started behind-the-wheel driving lessons, I still struggled to analyze text in English and Seaver Academic Center and Munger Science Center were indistinguishable to me.
Now, in 2021, I return as a senior. Over a year has passed since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, and during those months my junior year came and went. Each year of my high school experience has felt more bizarre than the last, and this one takes the cake—even as school starts up again, I just don’t feel like a 12th grader.
I used to imagine senior year as the spectacular culmination of my high school career, one final hurrah. I should be entering this year confident that I know how to end off my high school experience on a strong note; instead, I’m still trying to learn things I should have discovered in 2020.
I would love to say that I have emerged from quarantine ready to lead the unprepared sophomores and juniors through this challenging adjustment, but honestly, I’m just as baffled as the rest of the student body.
I didn’t have the junior year of my dreams, but it was not all bad: I had the benefit of studying from the comfort of my own bedroom, rather than finding myself stuck in daily 5 p.m. traffic on Coldwater Canyon Avenue. Many of my teachers were incredibly understanding throughout the year, treating students with compassion. I still managed to make friends and discover myself. There were aspects of online school that I believe we should not discard, like saving paper and remaining empathetic to each other.
Nevertheless, we learned last year that online school is deeply unsatisfying and unbelievably frustrating. Trying to comprehend math when my internet moved at a snail’s pace and my microphone glitched every few seconds was practically impossible. Focusing on U.S. history while my dogs yapped in the background and my parents mowed the lawn directly outside…You get the point. Most importantly, I missed the camaraderie that comes from struggling through anxiety and stress together, the new friends I would greet in the halls and the thrill of watching my classmates’ football game.
That’s what I’m hoping for this time around. I cannot wait to come back and enjoy what I missed out on. Even if I struggle to motivate myself to wake up at 6 a.m. to drive to school, I can spur myself on with the knowledge that this will be my first and last full year on campus, and I need to make the most of it.
I may not feel like a senior just yet, but I’m making it my mission to, at least, feel like a student. I skipped over a large portion of high school, so I have decided to appreciate every single moment of the year I have left. No, I don’t exactly know what I’m doing, but neither do any of my peers.
To quote “High School Musical,” “We’re all in this together.”
Making up for lost time
As a new ninth grader who came to the school without the friendships and memories usually forged in seventh and eighth grade, I’ve always perceived the upper school campus as a place to make up for lost time.
After having spent my first year adjusting at the Middle School, I awaited the true beginning of my high school career, when I would walk through the Coldwater campus classrooms and lunch tables for the first time. I would finally be unrestricted by awkward introductions or first conversations. I looked forward to forging relationships, developing passions and at last feeling like a true member of the school. Then, the pandemic hit.
My freshman and sophomore years suddenly shifted from sports practices and newfound friendships to social distancing protocols and virtual meetings. The three years of upper school joy I had dreamed of soon became an unrecognizable reality.
With each new day came the realization that the memories on which our high school experiences are based would be impossible to create on Zoom. Any emotion—the stress of finals, joy from homecoming or sadness while saying goodbye to a favorite senior—was dimmed by one text message on a laptop and could be stamped out completely by a click of the red “end” button.
Was more time lost than could be made up?
I’ve only experienced a few socially distanced weeks on the upper school campus. Even if we attend school completely in person for the next two years, one of my three years here will still have occurred mostly over Zoom. The festivals, speeches and graduations talked up in brochures are only recognizable to me in photos and videos; the traditions I have been lucky enough to experience are stifled by masks and the looming fear of catching COVID-19.
Most juniors experienced these sentiments. We have spent more time with middle school students than with students at the Upper School.
Next year, the normal routine of homework, tests and classes will be complicated by locker misunderstandings, accidental classroom mix-ups and social miscues.
We face a problem with no easy answer. Administrators have done an excellent job safely providing on campus activities since last December, and many students have taken these opportunities—practicing sports, performing musicals and writing articles, all while masked and socially distanced.
These activities have lost some of their spirit online, but in spite of these circumstances, they still serve to teach us a valuable lesson: intention. For these events to function, we have worked harder and strived to produce the same quality in more restrictive conditions. We have learned to be thoughtful and considerate in our interactions with others.
Whether or not we are able to make up the lost time, let’s be intentional with the years we have left.