The View from 2021: 2020 in Hindsight
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As it turns out, nobody had 2020 vision. The curse of 2020 caught the world by surprise, leaving us to watch as a series of very unfortunate events unfolded around us. But, at long last, we have escaped from a year that was chaotic, tragic, and challenging in historic proportions.
Pandemonium ensued from the get-go of 2020. “At the start of the year, there was the killing of Soleimani,” recalled sophomore Jonathan Song. “That problem stopped, but that week of back and forth was kind of scary.”
As concerning as the start of the year was, the political and social upheaval did not end there. “Another major event to me was [the Black Lives Matter movement] (BLM). We had a lot of BLM protests. You saw some rioting happening,” added junior Saif Elmosalami. These riots were incited by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020.
Sophomore Keara O’Donnell remembered a list of saddening deaths. “There was Kobe Bryant. There was Chadwick Boseman. There was also Ruth Bader Ginsburg, RBG,” she listed.
Despite all the different crises, it’s safe to say that for most people, 2020 was meant to be a year like any other. “I was expecting the same old, same old,” said Song. “[We’d] just be pushing through the same stuff we did every other day.”
Even before 2020, senior Jordan Gray learned to recognize that “normal” was a tricky term to define. Still, he couldn’t have anticipated the complete disruption of the conventions he was accustomed to. “I—like everyone—wasn’t expecting my whole life and routine to be upended,” Gray said. His expectations revolved around impending college applications and a sense of dread for all the work he would do over the summer in preparation. “Those personal expectations were probably identical to every other junior,” he speculated.
Most students didn’t expect the duration or severity of the pandemic and lockdown. “I knew coronavirus was bad, but I didn’t realize how bad it would get,” remarked O’Donnell. “I wasn’t really expecting quarantine to happen. I wasn’t expecting it to become so crazy.”
Freshman Erica Chen was counting on lockdown to end on April 20, as originally planned, in order to fully experience her last year of middle school. “I was happy because I thought I would at least get to go back to school and meet all my classmates and teachers in my middle school before I left for high school,” she explained in an e-mail interview.
Gray recalled hearing about the virus and feeling almost no worry: “As it entered the news more and seemed to grow bigger, a concern grew for others, but I wasn’t worried for my own safety.” The closest thing he had to compare it with was the Ebola outbreak years ago, which had barely affected the United States. Gray didn’t feel particularly concerned until shortly before the lockdown began in March. “I don’t think I started to really take the issue seriously until a week before quarantine started,” he recalled. “Going into the last week of school, my family did mention that they were concerned about me going to school and […] that maybe I shouldn’t go. I remember that week was weird; people were starting to realize this might affect us.”
Similarly, freshman William Tang only began to realize in March how serious the virus might be. “When the city declared it a serious issue, I think I started to take it more seriously, like a lot of people,” he said. Although Tang has been lucky enough not to be directly affected by the virus, he definitely has a greater sense of its reality now. “I haven’t gotten COVID, and no one I know has gotten COVID, but some people in my building have,” he explained.
Senior Serena Chan had expected to close out her years at Stuyvesant with a grand finale, but she has learned to accept and work around obstacles. She was looking forward to spending more time on extracurricular activities, and without them, she feels a bit robbed. “I feel like I’ve missed out on what could have been a more fulfilling time,” she said. In particular, she was looking forward to a final SING! performance in person. Despite the challenge to bring SING! to life virtually, she remains optimistic. “We can still go down in history as the iconic first virtual SING! performance,” she said. Chan also expected to spend more time with friends after school and was disappointed by the lack of opportunity to socialize in person. Still, she has managed to adapt. “To make up for it, at least we have text messages, video calls, and Zoom meetings, which are things I’m grateful for,” she said.
Remote learning was perhaps the most significant feature of 2020 that students were forced to adjust to. “Teachers could assign the same, if not more, work, so I found myself doing more work and just trying to balance it out. It gets pretty stressful pretty quick[ly]. I mean, you think you have that time at home, but you really don’t,” O’Donnell said.
Gray found remote learning to be stressful, even without considering the anxiety surrounding the virus. “While my concerned teachers were assigning less work, working remotely was tough,” he said.
For Chen, the transition to Stuyvesant’s homework was also especially shocking over remote learning, despite warnings from upperclassmen. “It turns out, those were not [complete] exaggerations, and Stuyvesant definitely owns up to [its] name of having a heavy workload,” she said.
Chan has found it “strangely relaxing to take classes virtually” and considers it an unexpected advantage to a senior year that has otherwise lacked the thrill she hoped for.
Unfettered by the numerous obstacles, Elmosalami was among those who were able to find some advantages to remote learning. “I didn’t like COVID because I liked being at school. But I saw it as a positive because I started working out at home,” he said.
O’Donnell had a similar experience with free time. “I was also able to do things I wouldn’t normally be able to do. I did a bit of French independently and stuff like that,” she said. Tang noted that he had the opportunity to take some online classes over the summer because of the pandemic.
The 2020 presidential election was, in Elmosalami’s opinion, more noteworthy than those of the past. He was most impressed by the voter turnout. “In past years, there haven’t been that many people voting. This year, the voter turnout was crazy,” he explained. “More than half the country went to the polls and voiced their opinions, which is phenomenal for democracy.” He was also surprised by Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the election, which was not seen in previous elections. “Of course, people are rambling on about voter fraud, though evidence wasn’t shown, and a lot of trials happened because Trump believed that voter fraud stole the election, which was a very ignorant thing for him to do,” he said.
Looking back from the first few weeks of 2021, many students can’t find much sense of whether there will ever be a “normal” like there was before, but they have certainly learned what they value. “Listen to the scientists,” advised Tang. “They know better. If you don’t, this is what happens.”
To Gray, the lesson was more about enjoying what he had. “I think we all just want to be able to go back to our normal routines,” he said. “I never thought I’d miss waiting for the train or getting yelled at to take my headphones out.” Even such seemingly dull and mundane things seem to hold a trace of pre-2020 “normal” life, which we so desire to return to.
Elmosalami awaits such a return to normalcy in 2021. “I’m hopeful that this year will be better for everyone,” he said.