Into the Known: The Summer of 2021

Stuyvesant students relive and reflect on the flurry of activity, change, and excitement that was the summer of 2021.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Sasha Socolow

Just like that, the summer of 2021 has come to an end. The back-to-school buzz begins once again, and students face the return to in-person school after nearly two years at home. A cautious yet enthusiastic flurry of activity took over most students’ summers as they all tried to transition back to a sense of the pre-pandemic “normal.” Stuyvesant certainly made the most of the season.

Embodying traditional Stuyvesant ambition, many students chose to participate in organized summer programs. Junior Joycena Yi completed a program at the Queens Zoo and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, despite it being completely virtual. “The program still offered really good content even through Zoom, so I was pretty happy with it,” she said. “There were two meetings per week. In one meeting, we’d work with two people on a project—something like a game or online poster—to educate the public about a certain conservation topic. The second meeting was scientific discovery day, where they’d talk about different scientific topics.”

Junior Isabella Chow camped with her all-girls Boy Scouts of America troop in upstate New York. As part of a wilderness survival class, Chow spent a night camping alone in the woods. “I had to build my own shelter out of wood and leaves. And then we had to spend the night alone, all by ourselves. It was kind of terrifying; kind of traumatizing. Would I do it again, though? Definitely,” she said.

Meanwhile, freshman Andy Xian worked to improve his athletic skills. “My goals were primarily with sports, because I was really interested in the sports teams at Stuyvesant, which I really wanted to join,” he said. Xian explained that he had been taking badminton classes and practicing on his own to prepare for tryouts. His preparations for the school year did not end there, however, as he also did some studying: “I wanted to review some information academics-wise to have it fresh in my mind, so that at Stuyvesant I can be prepared to learn new information.”

This seems to be a pattern among many incoming students, as freshman Ayesha Talukder also focused on studying for her classes. “I wanted to improve in my French studies, since I love French culture, and I can hopefully take French when school starts. I also wanted to improve my math skills before school starts, and that’s also been going pretty well,” she wrote in an e-mail interview.

On the other end of high school, senior Aya Alryyes worked on her college applications and described her struggle to work on her Common App essay during the summer. “It has been more difficult than I expected,” she said. “I love to write, and I had an idea in my head, but it’s hard to translate it to words on a page. I tried once, but I was really unhappy with what I wrote, and I haven’t really approached it since then.”

Despite the concern around college applications, Alryyes expressed that she enjoyed the summer and the amount of social interaction she was able to partake in. “The first thing I did officially this summer was spending a week in DC on a global citizenship program,” she said. She described something she dubbed the “camp effect,” where summer campers become very close very quickly. “On the first day, we were already completely oversharing with people we had just met that day. That was definitely a highlight,” she said.

She wasn’t the only one to bask in social interaction this summer. Thanks to vaccinations and loosened restrictions, the summer involved a plethora of in-person activities with friends and family. Chow, for one, felt that this was a major improvement from 2020. “The previous summer I was mostly at home, but this year I was able to hang out with my friends and live that life everyone sees on TikTok. Everyone’s going out, having fun, and I was able to accomplish that,” she said.

Though she enjoyed the time spent with her friends, Chow was disappointed by the inability to go on vacation with her family. “My family is pretty strict about the whole COVID thing, so we weren’t able to go out on family vacation,” she said. She explained that this need to be cautious restricted her ability to travel not only to other places, but also within the city. “It used to be easy to get around with public transportation, but recently because of COVID and also because of all the hate crimes that have come up, I’m not really allowed on public transportation unless I’m with a large group of people,” she said.

Despite normalcy trickling back into students’ lives, the pandemic still left many such fingerprints on everyone’s summers. Talukder, for example, was unable to participate in summer programs. “I wanted to attend a summer program over the summer, but because COVID was rising again near the area of the program, I couldn’t attend,” she wrote in an e-mail interview.

Yi expressed a very similar thought. “If the pandemic wasn’t a factor, I probably would have applied for more in-person programs rather than virtual ones,” she said.

Alryyes, meanwhile, had big plans to go to Jerusalem to visit her family, but these plans were spoiled by the continued closure of the Israeli border. “I was going to be working with my cousin, who works in an advocacy center in Al-Quds University documenting human rights abuses against Palestinians. Instead, I’ve been doing some remote work, which has been very good to do, even though I would have much preferred being there in-person,” she said.

In spite of disappointments and foiled summer plans, it seems to be commonly agreed upon that the summer of 2021 was a significant improvement from last summer. This summer was a relief from confinement within our homes. Chow attributed this feeling to the recent loosening of tight restrictions. “2020 was really strict. The most I went out was to the park with my family. So, this summer kind of made up for everything,” she said.

To Talukder, the past few months also involved much more time to relax. “Last year wasn’t very eventful, and I spent most of my time cooped up in my room studying for the SHSAT,” she wrote. “I definitely had more fun this year and a lot less studying and much more free time.”

Xian also felt less restrained by pandemic-related fears this year, which helped him be more productive. “I feel like everyone was taking safety precautions, like my peers and family. This summer I was still able to achieve my goals and achieve the things that I wanted to do, without having to worry about the pandemic as much as last year,” he said.

Alryyes described how this kind of worry was less significant this year after feeling the relief of knowing the upcoming school year would not be virtual. “This summer, knowing that [school] will be in-person has definitely given me something to look forward to. I think that’s what really made this summer much better, because I can point to an end of when I’m going to be at home,” she said.

The summer of 2021 has been a unique experience full of change and an enthusiastic, though slow, return to the sense of normalcy we held 18 months ago. It seemed to be the prelude to the upcoming school year, and hopefully, many students will be able to agree with Chow’s reflection when she said, “I would say this summer was probably my best summer yet given everything that happened.”