What We Have Lost, and What We Have to Gain

In this week's issue, high school senior Jack Odiorne reflects on the troubles of online high school classes and his views on the future in an open letter to his advanced placement psychology teacher. Jack, like many of us, expresses distress and resignation toward the sudden changes that we've all had to face, giving a senior's point of view on the current state of our online school systems.

"It could be much worse; let me just get that out of the way. I appreciate the flexibility from all teachers right now as it is much needed. I do apologize for being a little out of it, but this is an incredibly difficult time, and at the end of the day, I'm working my hardest. It really has caused a lot of anxiety, just trying to get my schedule planned out for my normal day, not even just schoolwork. Adding schoolwork on top of that just made this even harder. I would say your workload is one of the lightest; I've been trying to get outside as much as possible, but most days I am working through lunch and don't get the opportunity to go outside. My other teachers have been assigning a good amount of work, although I feel like coming up on our third week of online school, I will soon be adjusted to this kind of learning.

It is certainly difficult, but I am just starting to get the hang of it. I have been socially distancing, but it has gotten very difficult to accept this. I really would like to be moving on to my next step of life, celebrating with high school buddies and then meeting new friends over the summer at Penn State. While they are still offering online classes, it is very different from what the summer session was supposed to be. I was supposed to get a feel for the campus and the town before the fall semester started, an early start that would allow me to get past those early college jitters and make some friends to go into this uncharted territory with. I honestly have not been anxious about this; it is more so a feeling of anger about the fact that what I had been looking forward to was taken away. Graduation is gone, which is unfortunate, but I recognize that it is gone now, and any attempt at redoing it would not feel the same. So I have come to terms with that, and I have come to terms with no prom and other celebrations that come along with finally completing four years of high school. Although in coming to terms with that, I was supposed to have something to look forward to, something to keep me going, something that will push me forward, but I don’t, or at least I have a very watered-down version of it. Even in saying that though, it is better than nothing, and I will be so excited once my online courses for Penn State begin in June.”

Like Jack, I also have felt the numbness that has come with the uncertainty of the end of this school year, a feeling that some of us would say is akin to mourning. We have all lost something over these past three months, whether that be graduation, prom, a family trip, a job, the freedom to leave our homes, or even a loved one. While this sudden change is disconcerting, the most upsetting thing seems to be the uncertainty of it all. As Jack noted in his letter, elements of our daily lives and futures have been stripped away suddenly and almost cruelly, with no hint as to when they might return. Politicians and health professionals note that we must accept a “new normal,” yet we all aren't quite sure what that is yet. It's hard to push forward and remain hopeful when you're not sure what you're pushing toward.

So with all this loss, we might ask ourselves: What possibly is there to gain? It is
something I have thought about a lot lately, and I am sure we are all wondering what we could possibly be doing now to make this unprecedented “free time” worth it. It seems to me that the easiest thing we can do is exactly what Jack did - reflect. In the busyness of our high-speed lives, we rarely have such extended amounts of time to just be alone and think about ourselves and the world around us. Not only is it a healthy way to initiate change in ourselves, but it can also help us focus on what we do have. Most Americans living in counties like ours rarely face any kind of hardship like the one we are facing, and we certainly have never had to worry as much, as many of us are doing now. Being thrust into such a sudden state of emergency and change not only highlights how much we previously took for granted, but it also shines a white-hot spotlight on what we still have. While it is perfectly normal to mourn the loss of graduations ceremonies and other cancelled events, most of us aren't out of a job or lacking in educational resources. As Jack noted, nearly every school in the surrounding districts has been able to roll out a substantial online curriculum, one that is certainly more boring than physically being in school, but it does the trick.

And although the pain and anxiety of being shuttered away in our own homes can seem overwhelming at times, it is important to remember what we haven't lost, and what will still come in the future. Our seniors will go away to college in the school year of 2020-21, even if the campuses might be closed come fall. Graduated college seniors will find jobs, and high school juniors will be able to take their mandatory college entrance exams. And as we move into May, perhaps our new motto shouldn't be, “What am I missing?” but rather, “What's done is done.” As Jack said, it could be so much worse.