Art by Shruti Patel

As the one year COVID-19 anniversary approaches, student  Cade Spencer, reflects on the year.

A High School Senior: March 13 Reflection

If I had been asked to define myself before March 13, 2020, my definition would have been most likely as follows: “Cade: A student-athlete who beyond academic work devotes his time to scholastic journalism, community service, and leadership.” In the time before the era of COVID-19, I was living life as if it was a resume, crafting a story I believed would set me up for my future. It should be noted, however, that I was not necessarily unhappy in viewing life by my accomplishments. I have always been an individual driven to achieve success in my future and yet, at the time, I did not know everything I was missing. 

When campus was closed on March 13, I, like many of my peers, was rather excited. Ignorant to the reality of a global pandemic, my mind believed the situation was rather simple. A vacation! I was beyond excited to finally have the time to watch Netflix, spend time with friends, and enjoy life as a teenager. Oh, how naive I was. 

Of course, as many of my peers were similarly disillusioned, the expectations of trips to movie theaters, Friday night dinners at Chuy’s, and Spring Break vacations were quickly trampled by the reality of what is a global pandemic. The all encompassing quarantine had begun, and I at the time, felt scared for what I perceived as a new age of isolation. 

For a few days following the initiation of quarantine, I was still comfortable in my bliss of naivety- or denial. Netflix and Hulu kept a smile on my face, and I truly enjoyed the time to relax. However, when the extended “Spring Break” period finally came to an end, it was announced that campus would be closed indefinitely. In fact, as I write this on March, 12, 2021, I have yet to step foot on campus since March 12, 2020. 

Finishing off my junior year, I really did not mind the virtual setting. If anything, I kind of enjoyed it. I believed that I had been given a free pass on what is supposed to be the hardest period of high school. Please note, however, that it does pain me to write about the level of ignorance I harborded. For me, quarantine was at worst an annoyance and at best a break. 

As I reflect now, as an individual who has truly grown in this time, I can view the past year for what it truly is. While quarantine may not have completely devastated my life, there are many of my peers, members of my community, and people around the world who have been deeply impacted by the past year. Taking a quick break from my reflection, I just want to take a moment to acknowledge that reality. My prayers and thoughts go out to all who have been deeply affected. 

After it had been announced that my senior year would be remote as well, the reality of my situation truly began to register. I realized that school, swim team, UNICEF Club, newspaper, and volunteer work would all look different, and in many circumstances, not take place at all. In contrast to everything I had known before, I could no longer live my day-to-day life  based on what I did and accomplished. For, in the present circumstances, I did very little. As an individual who had always found joy and value in what they did, I had truly forgotten how to simply be. Trying to grasp for illusions of productivity and achievement, I created to-do lists, Google Calendars, and even bullet journals. If I was able to complete online school, my laundry, and two essays for college admissions in a single day, I was happy. 

For a while, the cycle of to-do lists brought me peace. Check, check, check. Productivity can be a drug if you let it. However, there quickly came a time where the cycle of do, do, do  simply was not enough. Before quarantine, my time and energy were divided among multiple facets of personal pursuits, extracurriculars, and projects. Whenever I struggled to find success or joy in one area of my life, I was able to transition to another and “uplift” myself. Yet, quarantine had snatched all of these facets away, and I was left with only one main part of my previous resume: school. Academic success, while great, is a dangerous quality to build an identity upon. Grades are fickle, and in the end, they can never provide the consistent validation and confirmation we all seek. Thus, all I could think about was the activities I missed that had made school enjoyable and the feelings of productivity I longed for. Oh, how I wish everything was normal! I was a kid stripped of their identity, and I did not know where to turn. 

At this point, I would like to add another crucial concession. While the previous paragraph ends on a gloomy note, I was by no means sad at the time. Sadness is not the correct term to describe my experience in quarantine. In fact, I believe the experience can be best expressed by staleness. It was as if I was attempting to sleep on a hot summer’s night where comfort was but a dream and a gust of wind could not be felt. I was uncomfortable and apprehensive, but I was not sad. 

Reflecting on my quarantine experience today, I can genuinely say that I am grateful for it. Again, I do not want my gratitude to be mistaken for ignorance. The past year has been a time filled with real fear, true sadness, and great loss. Many of these emotions I have experienced now for the first time. Yet, the past year has also been a time of great personal growth. After reconciling with my new state and disillusioned sense of self, I finally came to an epiphany. Prior to COVID-19, I had always spoken on how much I valued “personal growth.” However, looking back now, I used to always find my “growth” externally. It was as if I was a tree with a hollow body. I was constantly growing out, expanding my branches into new extracurriculars, groups, and achievements, and I interpreted these advances as growth. However, I failed to simultaneously develop the person inside, and thus I was rather hollow. Quarantine, in all of its bad, has given me a great gift. The past year took all of the distractions away that had previously blinded me, and I was finally able to pay attention to who I truly was. 

Throughout the past year, I have deeply enjoyed the opportunity to learn who I am. Beyond school, beyond swim, beyond a resume, I have been able to explore the things that truly excite me, make me laugh, and make me cry. I have felt true fear, loss, and I believe, true joy for the first time. With no activities to fill a resume of life, I have been given the opportunity to live. Instead of basing my day-to-day satisfaction on what I accomplished, I now employ a different rubric. What did I do today to further my creativity? What did I do today that I truly enjoyed? What did I do today to serve my family? I have rekindled my passion for creative writing, furthered my love of story-telling, and spent invaluable time with my family. Best of all, quarantine has given me ample time to delve into my faith and spirituality, enabling me to develop into the individual I desire. Piece by piece, day by day, I have built a new identity. No longer I am simply defined by accomplishments, although they are and will always be important to me. If I were to be asked today to define myself, my definition would most likely be as follows: “Cade: A passionate individual who values intellectual curiosity, compassion, faith, humility, and joy over all else.”

All in all, quarantine truly has been a transformative experience for me. No longer I am like a hollow tree. In fact, my internal personality and sense of self is now more developed and vibrant than the accomplishments I used to hold so dear. 

As I conclude my reflection, I want to again reiterate my understanding of the past year through a global lens. I truly empathize with those who have lost loved ones, experienced true loss, and suffered from fear. I have felt many of these emotions too, and I hope you know that you are not alone. Lastly, I hope that as we all progress forward, we can avoid viewing this year as time lost. Everything that we believe has been lost has only made room for all that there is to find. 


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