Nine months ago, my classmates and I began our final year of high school, expecting to triumph over AP courses, tackle the college application process, and share a few more smiles before saying goodbye. Instead, this academic year has been full of trials we had not foreseen.
The year 2020 has brought the most unexpected beginning to a new decade, as we have been beset by two pandemics — COVID-19 and institutional racism. COVID-19 has coerced the United States and many other nations across the globe to face the harrowing new reality of quarantine and social distancing. Over the past three months, citizens have been staying at home due to the elevated morbidity rates of the coronavirus, particularly in densely populated regions of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The most devastating aspect of COVID-19 is that those who have lost loved ones have not been able to experience proper closure due to the restrictions on visiting hospitals and nursing homes, as well as planning and attending traditional funerals.
When I heard of the first outbreak in Wuhan, China during the Chinese New Year, I pitied those who had to spend what would otherwise be a joyous occasion in apprehension over the mysterious virus. The ethnic discrimination towards Asian-Americans over the virus that followed has been perturbing, especially because Asians who have not been exposed to the COVID-19 have been scapegoated for “spreading the virus.”
March 12th was the last day I walked through Haverford High School as a student, and I did not even know it. This pandemic has abruptly cut short the 2019-2020 school year for all students, but it has been particularly challenging for seniors — including myself. When one of my teachers warned my classmates and me that COVID-19 would reach Philadelphia and that schools may close, I brushed off her prediction, believing that people were overreacting about the virus. I had not foreseen the virus’s rapid spread across the globe, nor had I expected the abrupt statewide school closures. Within less than two weeks, school events, including Haverford Drama Club’s 9 to 5 production, academic competitions, and sporting events, were canceled. Suddenly, I was inundated by emails informing me of cancellations for events that I most looked forward to at the end of my senior year — the HOSA competition with my Medical Careers classmates, the Junior Achievement competition with my co-founders of SoulStrung, and my final concert with the Philadelphia Sinfonia.
Sitting behind each graduating class of Haverford High School while performing “Pomp and Circumstance” during my last three years, I envisioned myself as a senior walking down the aisle to the classic graduation tune, picking up my diploma, and tossing up my cap in celebration. Since Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe announced the closure of all schools in Pennsylvania for the rest of the year, I did not have a chance to say goodbye to all of my friends and teachers at a traditional graduation ceremony. Instead, my classmates and I graduated in our driveways, where we were met with a school bus of teachers who handed us our diploma.
Nonetheless, I am grateful for Haverford’s transition to the Flexible Learning curriculum and the modern technology that has facilitated online learning during the remainder of my senior year. As I adapted to the norm of disciplining myself to finish all of my assignments, I could not help but ponder how students would have productively continued their education had this prolonged closure occurred decades ago when technology was not adequately advanced to enable virtual conferences. Being able to sleep in, yet being tasked with assignments each day, has been a unique experience because the federal decree to stay at home has made my quarantine feel somewhat like a break.
Just as Pennsylvania was slowly lifting stay-at-home orders in preparation for the yellow phase of reopening on June 5, a social pandemic — racism — plagued the United States. The murder of George Floyd, an African American man who was arrested by a white police officer in Minneapolis on Memorial Day for allegedly passing counterfeit money, has spurred civil unrest across the nation. Combined with the unlawful deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and numerous other African Americans, Floyd’s murder was the last straw that ignited further strife. Protestors have shown support for the Black Lives Matter movement to end the continuous cycle of discrimination. As upsetting as these circumstances have been, they brought the Havertown community together for a just cause.
I leave Haverford in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the massive demonstrations protesting racism in the nation’s police forces and justice system. These recent events have taught me what truly matters in life. The health crisis has encouraged me to cherish the blessings — health and nourishment — that I once took for granted. As an aspiring medical doctor, my respect has grown for the heroic frontline personnel who risk their lives daily to save as many lives as they can. The recent deaths of African Americans at the hands of the police, rooted in racism, have been a wake-up call to the inequality that still exists in the country today. Despite the challenges that have plagued the United States in the last three months, I exit Haverford with a drive to use my voice to improve both the healthcare and justice system.
2020 is truly a year I will never forget.