Reflections on a Lost Year, My First at GDS

Painting by Nava Mach.

Once I began my high school journey at GDS on Sep. 8, 2020, virtual classes minimized the opportunity for social interaction. The inability to participate in in-person activities made it extremely difficult to make genuine connections with other students. While students who were at GDS in previous years may have had an easier time connecting with their peers, for new members of the community, it was a struggle.

Freshman year was supposed to be the time to explore and adapt to my new high school environment, socially and academically, making new friends and becoming a greater part of my new community. Yet I didn’t have the opportunity to fully do that this year. I found it very difficult to have conversations with other students over Zoom, as some students turned off their cameras in breakout rooms. There was often a cascading effect, in which one person turned off their camera, leading to the rest of the people in the breakout room doing the same thing, making breakout rooms feel quite awkward throughout the school year. 

During in-person learning, people have time to talk during the fragments in between classes, such as in the hallways, on the field and during lunch, but during virtual learning, people usually logged off immediately after their classes ended, making those awkward breakout rooms the only place to talk. Additionally, the inability for clubs and sports to meet in person earlier this year and actively engage members on Zoom made them less worthwhile to participate in. 

Learning was stifled as a result of the pandemic, with less class time compared to previous years. Because both teachers and students had to get used to unfamiliar platforms, the learning process was inevitably slowed down. I felt drained from having to stay on my computer for so long during the school day, leading me and others to have less motivation to complete homework. Dwindling willpower to get assignments completed led homework to pile up quickly. At some points, the amount of built-up homework felt overwhelming, to the point where my friends were staying up past midnight to complete a seemingly never-ending cycle of assignments, which prevented me from hanging out with them. 

Thinking back, I’ve realized that along with all of the downsides of being stuck at home, virtual learning provided a unique experience and opportunity that can teach me and others some valuable lessons. During COVID-19, I started to value my friends even more, leading us to become closer. Freshman Darwin Gu took this time “to learn how important friends are.” Over the pandemic, people I only knew as acquaintances have become some of my best friends, due to the greater connection and camaraderie with my peers. Before COVID-19, there was so much going on in the busy environment around me that I usually tended to ignore important things, like family or friends. Having the opportunity to get to know my family better throughout the pandemic has been rewarding

COVID-19 forced me to appreciate so many things that I previously took for granted. When the pandemic began, the isolation allowed me and others to self-reflect about and evaluate how we interact with our environments. In the end, I believe I have come out stronger as a result of the pandemic, because learning how to manage the unpredictable circumstances will serve me greatly in the future. With greater access to vaccinations and the loosening of restrictions, I look forward to returning to campus this fall, to engage more with the GDS community than I did this year. 

Hercules Zhang ’24