From Lockdown to Cap and Gown

Srinidhi Valathappan | The Chronicle

“Unprecedented circumstances.”

As I sit down to write this column, it’s hard to believe that four years have passed since the world as we knew it came to a screeching halt. Four years ago, on March 12, 2020, I spent my first bell Physical Science class discussing the new coronavirus phenomenon that seemed to take over the world. Yet, armed with our middle school naivete, we left class that day giggling and laughing at the unimaginable idea of it ever reaching us. The concept of a global pandemic seemed like something out of a dystopian novel, not a reality we had to confront. Yet a few hours later, Governor Mike DeWine announced lockdown plans across the state. Initially, like many others, I was overjoyed.

The initial months of lockdown were characterized by a strange mix of fear, confusion, and, oddly enough, a sense of novelty. Online classes became the norm, and my bedroom transformed into a makeshift classroom. The technological hiccups and awkward virtual interactions were laughable at first, but as time wore on, the novelty wore thin. The thrill of attending class in pajamas soon gave way to a longing for the familiar buzz of the school hallways and the annoyingly endearing conversations with classmates.

Transitioning from middle school to high school during a pandemic presented its own set of challenges. The traditional rites of passage, such as freshman orientation and the excitement of exploring a new school, were replaced by virtual introductions and Google Meet icebreakers. Yet, amidst the challenges, there was a silver lining. We became experts at finding ways to stay connected, whether through virtual game nights, socially distanced outdoor gatherings or the constant exchange of memes that served as a digital glue holding us together.

Amidst the backdrop of these unprecedented circumstances, another pivotal chapter in my journey was competing in speech and debate during my freshman year. With the world pivoting to virtual interactions, the realm of speech and debate followed suit, transitioning to online tournaments. Sitting at the state banquet, surrounded by my teammates in person for the first time, was a surreal experience. I listened intently as seniors shared nostalgic stories about the traditions that bonded them—tales of laughter shared over meals at the food court during bus rides and humorous anecdotes from tournaments. They spoke of the family they had formed within the team, a sentiment I longed to fully understand.

As a freshman who had only ever interacted with my teammates, competitors and captains over Zoom, these stories felt like echoes from a parallel universe. I was an outsider to these shared memories, unable to connect with the experiences that seemed to define the essence of our team. But now, after competing in my fourth and final state tournament and delivering my own senior speech, the narrative has shifted. I’m no longer the outsider looking in; I’ve lived those moments of bonding and experienced the cherished traditions firsthand. The laughter, the shared meals, the collective excitement and disappointment—these were no longer stories told by others but memories I held dear. The journey from a freshman year marked by isolation to a senior year filled with shared experiences highlighted a profound transformation.

Reflecting on my freshman year, amidst the challenges and the sense of disconnection from the team’s traditions, I wouldn’t change it. Like salt in a cake, those early experiences of adversity added depth to the sweetness of the ending. They made the eventual connection and shared memories with my team all the more precious. 

Fast forward to my senior year, and the scars of those early days still linger. I find myself caught in the crossroads of time, reflecting on the journey from an eighth grader grappling with uncertainty to a high school senior navigating the remnants of a pandemic-altered reality. I find myself appreciating the simple joys more than ever—the laughter of friends during lunch, the thrill of a live performance and the shared excitement of graduation plans.

As we commemorate the four-year mark of those “unprecedented circumstances,” let us not only remember the challenges but also celebrate the resilience that emerged from the shadows. We are a generation marked by this shared experience, and as we step into the future, may we carry with us the lessons learned and the strengths discovered.