May is a busy time for high school students, particularly seniors. But now, the coronavirus pandemic has canceled sports, competitions and activities, not to mention prom and graduation. What event or activity were you particularly excited for this year? Why is it important to you? How are you feeling missing it?
I was most excited for ICDC (International Career Development Conference) for DECA. For the past 4 years I have dedicated countless hours of work to perfect my testing and presentation skills, as well as my overall knowledge in business and finance to succeed in DECA. For 3 years in a row, I qualified for state and was a hair away from qualifying for international competition, getting as close to being 3 presentation points away in my freshman year from making it to the biggest stage. My senior year, I doubled down on the work and did presentation projects, one of which being a chapter project in which my partner Ava Wright and I tackled the issue of financial illiteracy in the community. As part of this project we started an investment club, taught high school and elementary classes, created a YouTube series about finance, and held a student run finance fair. This culminated in our project getting second place at state with a perfect presentation score, signifying that we had a legitimate chance at winning the international competition. As far as my individual presentation, I coincidentally came full circle and scored 3 points more than I did in my freshman year, which was just enough to qualify me for my individual project as well. This would have been my first year going to ICDC and be the culmination of all my hard work, but as fate would have it, the conference was canceled one week later due to COVID-19. The realization that I wouldn’t be able to experience this has hit me in waves; it still hasn’t fully hit me that despite doing everything I needed to finally reach my goal, I would never be able to experience ICDC. While the experiences and friends made during my 4 years in DECA alone are worth the time and effort that I put into the program, a part of me feels empty knowing that I was unable to experience and accomplish the goal of winning ICDC that I had set the beginning of my freshman year. Overall, the experience has been bittersweet: I finally pushed through my invisible barrier and reached the big stage, but it just happened to be a case of right place, wrong time.
Many of you talked about the lack of closure this year brought. Tell us about why it’s important to you to have some sense of closure on your educational experience, and what, if anything, you’re doing to make peace with the fact that this period of your life is coming to an end.
For me, my entire life has been dedicated for the most part to my studies. While graduation itself is not as important to me as graduating, the closure that it would have brought has great importance to me because it stands as a testament to the numerous hours that I have poured into school. The hardest thing to come to terms with is my departure into the real world; I am now at the point of no return, being thrown into the cold world of adulthood where no one really knows what’s going on and the security of living as a dependent vanishes away. I do not believe that I am NOT ready, I simply feel weary of what the future might hold for me.
The coronavirus pandemic is an event of global scale and with massive historical implications. But the class of 2020 has lived through a number of other historical events: The 2016 election, the Parkland shooting, a rise in youth activism and more. How have these events shaped you, and how do you think this pandemic will affect your understanding of the world in the future?
During my short 18 year life, I have been lucky enough to live through two economic recessions, a once in a century earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear trifecta of a disaster, a global pandemic, and much, much more. Ironically enough, the two things that shaped me the most were the two that happened during my earlier years.
I learned in 2008 the effects of economic stressors and struggle, and because of my naive insistence to try to understand everything going on around me, a part of me had to grow up a lot quicker than a first grader usually does. I remember watching on TV the ups and downs of the stock market and looking at the rocketing unemployment rate, and while I was far from smart enough to understand what any of these things fully meant, I understood the negative effects that they would have on both the community around me and my family. This, as well as my father being a very finance savvy role model, pushed me to have passion and a drive for good personal finance, and encouraged me to be more empathetic for those around me.
After that, living alone in Japan with my mother while my father stayed in the United States for work, I encountered the biggest disaster in 21st century Japanese history, a mere 3 years after the recession. Running around the town with no shoes and seeing the world around me seemingly collapsing in on itself, detached from my mother at work and my father in a different continent, I truly had to rely on a surge of urgency bordering fight or flight that I had never felt before. Even after I was reunited with my mother, the nightly checks on the news for updates on the radiation spreading from Fukushima, the late nights being unable to sleep because of constant aftershocks and the fear that our power would be shut off without notice because of “setsuden” (energy conservation) are still vivid memories in my head. This emergency was a blessing in disguise: it asked everyone in the nation, of all ages, to become more responsible for themselves and each other. It helped me further develop empathy for others and really helped me prepare to be self sufficient, no matter the situation of the world around me.
Both of these experiences taught the importance of knowing how to grit my teeth and push through the obstacles that are thrown at me, no matter how intrusive. In Japanese we have a word for this: 我慢(Gaman), which is a word that describes the perseverance to push through life’s obstacles. Gaman is something that everyone learns through one experience or another. This pandemic has similarly instilled the ability of perseverance into my generation in the United States as well. My hope is that we will hold onto this trait; when the next big catastrophe hits us in our life as it inevitably will, we will all “Gaman”, and use our past experiences of struggle to double our efforts and push through, much as my previous experiences allowed me to confidently handle the changes in our life from this pandemic.