Besides the pandemic, the Class of 2021 has also lived through a number of recent historical events the past year, including a presidential election and movements fighting for change. How have all these events shaped you, and what gives you hope for the future?
The events of this year have, more than anything, changed my perspective on how I view the world and others. It has been too easy to give in to hate when we don’t understand and to become angry when others’ perspectives don’t match ours. This year cemented the idea in me that everyone has had incredibly varying experiences that have shaped their outlooks, and what my priorities and values are may not be the right fit for everyone. Because of this, I have stopped holding everyone accountable to my personal measuring stick and begun to listen, learn, and understand others before making any judgment on their character.
School districts began the school year in remote-only learning, then transitioned to hybrid instruction and for some students, even had full-time instruction again. What shook you and what gave you strength to push through during this challenging final year of K-12 schooling?
The initial transition from full-time to at-home learning was very difficult for me. I had a lot of fear relating to the future, how everything would work with new protocols, and if we would even be able to have any form of classes the next year. What helped me push through was knowing that however scared and troubled I was, someone in my school was more scared, more alone, and had more challenges to face than I could imagine. This allowed me to put my worries aside and focus on helping those that may not have the privileges and opportunities that I do.
Over the past 15 months, students found themselves in uncharted territory and were forced to adjust to a new reality. What do you want people to know about learning in a pandemic — and living in a pandemic as a teenager — after more than a year of COVID-19 impacting education?
I think, above all, I want people to know how the experience of my generation has been so different from any other before us. None of us will have had the “regular” school experience, no matter how old or young we were during this time. None of us will know a childhood without civil rights protests, economic crises, or overrun healthcare systems. While these last 15 months have been difficult, they have granted us a unique outlook on society and an awareness beyond our years. Gen Z, and teenagers especially, are educated, are active, are socially and politically aware, and have now grown up with distinctive circumstances that have matured us in a different way than any other age group before us and will guide our decisions in the next ten years as we inherit our place in society.
How have you changed since the pandemic started and what have you learned and gained over the past several months as you enter the next stage of your life?
During the pandemic I have become a much more flexible person. Before I was known to be someone who needed plans to go the way they were supposed to go, who needed to know every detail of my day before leaving the house. I thrived on predictability. Of course, this was impossible to sustain during the pandemic so I was forced to adapt, and I am so grateful for the change. I think it has allowed me to become a well-rounded individual and I have definitely become more relaxed. Now, I deal with things as they come up, and if plans change I roll with that too. This flexibility has also come as the result of newfound confidence in my capabilities. I now know I can deal with and solve any problem that comes my way, which allows me to be more relaxed regarding the future. This will serve me greatly in college, medical school, and my career more than any other trait. So, in that way, the pandemic has contributed to my success and any future success I happen to achieve.