Mar. 13, 2020, was like every other school day: I found myself staring off into the cloudy skies outside my fourth-period classroom’s window, daydreaming of soft covers and getting to sleep in for the weekend. But what would be announced over the speakers a few moments later would change the course of my entire high school journey. Public schools across California would be going on a two-week break because of something called the “coronavirus”.
That brief two weeks I used to catch up on sleep quickly morphed into a month, then a few months, and then into an entire summer. Soon enough, the afternoon naps I so longed for became part of my daily routine to fill up all the newfound time I had in the day. My motivation and focus slowly slipped away as I completed my sophomore year online—if you could even consider it a proper education with the number of classes I attended.
In the span of a short-lived summer, I was suddenly a junior. Without the familiar sight of my friends at lunch or the classroom ambiance of peers and teachers, each day I spent behind my computer felt as if I was living through some bizarre dream. I had heard from upperclassmen that junior year is where my performance would matter the most in preparing for college applications, but with the way the year proceeded, my motivation to keep focused only dwindled. Distractions were especially hard to ignore, with no one to reprimand me if I took a look at my phone or opened up YouTube on my laptop.
But through all the hardships that quarantine threw at me, I was strangely grateful for all the time I suddenly had to myself. For the first time as a student, I was truly and completely alone with myself. No longer were the majority of my school days buried in assignments and endless extracurriculars meant to occupy me. With all this time to myself, I had the chance to discover new interests and pursue all the things I was passionate about but never had the opportunity to dive into. In those moments where I found what truly brought me joy, I felt like a real human being, not just someone whose sole purpose was to maintain straight A’s and a 4.0 GPA. The year proceeded, and COVID-19 restrictions began to be lifted. My days would only get busier and busier once life returned to normal, but the growth quarantine provided would continue to stay with me.
Without noticing it, I had already become a senior. Although reality hadn’t sunk in yet, being able to walk on campus for the first time in over a year felt bizarrely nostalgic. I was able to wear the same backpack, walk across the same halls, and sit with my friends in the same lunch spot as if last year had never happened. But in their own ways, things were still different. A new set of teachers and classes. Clubs on campus I had never heard of before. But most daunting of all, the start of the college applications process.
In less than a month from now, I have to finalize my choice for the path the rest of my life is supposed to take. In less than a year from now, I’ll be off to college living alone in a dorm room. Perhaps it was because last year was entirely online or because I had always pushed aside thoughts of the future, but I barely felt prepared to make such a jump. How am I supposed to decide the direction of my life when part of me still feels like a sophomore struggling to write lab reports for chemistry class?
My uncertainty is coupled with the fact that online school made it more difficult for me, and many other current seniors, to foster deep connections with the teachers from junior year. For students like me who were shy or just felt disconnected from online classes in general, actively participating in class and getting a teacher to remember me as a person felt like an impossible task. But to have to ask those same teachers for letters of recommendation now as seniors?
When meeting with one of my junior year teachers to ask for a recommendation, I was confident in getting rejected because of how I didn’t talk as much in class compared to her other students. But to my surprise, my teacher happily agreed to write a letter for me. I walked out of her classroom that day with a smile on my face and a peculiar certainty that despite my struggles, everything would work out in the end.
Though I can no longer deny it, I am a senior at Arcadia High School now. No matter where I find myself at the end of the year, I hope to look to the future with confidence that all the challenges I’ve overcome throughout my high school journey have helped mold me into the person I am today.
Graphic by Kate De Prima