| This is the 567th story of Our Life Logs® |
Most people think of their high school graduation as a marker in life, the moment you worked for years to accomplish. It’s the moment when real life begins.
So, when did life begin for the class of 2020? Because I’m still waiting.
Ever since I was young, I loved to learn. I was born the oldest of three siblings to your everyday, middle-class, tucked-in-the-outskirts-of Las Vegas, Hispanic family. I always made good grades and worked hard to buckle down and improve if I fell short. That sort of student.
When my senior year of high school began in the fall of 2019, I had a routine I’d grown used to and I was comforted by the schedule. My day would start at 6 AM. School started at 7 AM. I’d spend half the day in college prep classes, and the other half in my electives like band. In my spare moments (not frequent!) I made my plans for the future—both practical and fantastical, of course. Here’s what I had in mind…
I wanted to go to a school someplace on the East Coast, maybe on a band scholarship. I had excelled in math and science all my life, so I planned to major in biology or chemistry in college. And because I wanted to see the world, I’d minor in International Studies. At school, I imagined doing biology samples of frog legs and having chemistry study groups with hot nerdy girls—you know, the typical STEM experience. After all that worked out in my favor, my mother would call me at the end of a stressful week to hear all about her college student and I would pretend to be annoyed, but secretly love every second of hearing her voice. I imagined flying back and forth for the holidays, full of homesickness that could only be cured by my mother’s cooking. I could see it all. I could almost touch it. Just a little while longer to wait.
2020 began. Blissfully unaware, weren’t we?
It was around January that I was officially accepted into a college on the East Coast. My adult life started to feel like reality. Everything was falling into place and I began making plans to leave Las Vegas. My life was starting just the way I planned.
But then something else became reality too. As severe sickness started spreading like wildfire, I watched as COVID-19 changed everything I knew about the world.
In my lifetime, there have been some crazy headlines.
I had already seen the country deal with a terrorist attack on New York and the anthrax scare when I was still a toddler. I saw the country deal with the Bird Flu, Mad Cow Disease, H1N1, the Ebola virus, several school shootings, a Harvest Festival massacre, and more. Needless to say, my tolerance for breaking news was higher than generations before me.
When COVID-19 first trickled into conversations, it was easy to brush off. Another Bird Flu, eh? But, the death count kept surging and medical device shortage climbed along with it.
On March 13, 2020, I was at lunch with some friends when we heard the radio declare that the world had entered a pandemic because of the rapidly spreading virus, COVID-19. We were stunned to silence. A pandemic? That seemed like a drastic word to use.
When we got back to school from lunch that day, every staff member was already whispering. Talk about going to school part-time was already going around. All the students went home full of questions. Were we all sick already? Would we be exposed if we went back?
After that day, I never got to step foot in my high school again. The school district decided to close all schools until further notice.
Just like that, everything that was familiar to me was taken away. My only communication to the outside world now was my phone. School went to virtual learning, which was extremely difficult to follow, and my grades began to suffer. The teacher would just have the camera on a computer screen with directions. It was like we had all been assigned to attend class while our teachers were on Mars. The worst part was that we weren’t cut any slack and expected to keep up the same workload despite the major changes we were dealing with.
This was the last thing I wanted to happen right before college. But would there even be a college? Some schools were considering putting fall classes on hold. I wanted a back-up plan in case that happened, so I applied and was accepted to our local community college that was planning to stay open.
This would all be over by May, right?
When May came, I had hoped we would go back to school so I could say a proper goodbye to my teachers and friends. Wishful thinking. The hospitals were filling up and the state increased shutdown restrictions. Although I understood that it was for the safety of others, I was still crushed. As people were getting sick and dying all around me, my love for education was dying too. My once strong love for learning had been snuffed out by having to stare at a computer screen all day and teach myself. What was the point?
The school allowed a CDC-regulated graduation. It was very underwhelming. I think it lasted five minutes. I walked across a mock stage on the football field while they played some audio of the graduation song. Then they called your family from their cars to take a three-minute photo shoot. Nobody else could be on the field. None of your classmates. And if you had a large family of over eight people, somebody had to miss out because, with the camera man and the principal, we were at full capacity since the CDC was asking to limit to groups of 10. I was able to have my immediate family, girlfriend, and grandparents in the picture, but my many cousins, aunties, and uncles could not attend. That’s not a normal thing for my family. The normal thing would be for my friends and family to take up half the stands. While I appreciated the effort, it did not feel like the graduation I always dreamed of. There was no closure.
I had waited all my life to turn 18 in that summer of 2020. Hindsight. There were no parties. No get-togethers. I just sat in my room. I would get up, eat a bagel, brush my teeth, go skateboarding alone, come home and help around the house, do some studies, FaceTime my friends and play some video games, eat dinner, sleep, and repeat.
College turned out to be a continuation of this routine with a few classes thrown into the mix. My mother did not get a long goodbye. It was more like a “See you soon” while I disappeared to my room for three hours for online classes. Staying in my old room was not the dorm experience that I had envisioned. No roommate or college frat parties. No hot nerdy girls, no frog legs, no homesickness, no true college experiences. The one bright spot was that I was getting real lectures now. They did not just post assignments, which was helpful. Still, it was just as monotonous. I longed to go to a real college campus, to sit down at a desk with other studies, just once.
My motivation for life began to change and my outlook on college changed with it. Was this even really needed? Could I be successful without going through this? On the tougher days, I researched jobs I could get without a college degree. College had been the best four years of my parents’ lives. But for me and this new reality, I could not stand four hours.
The only thing that helped keep at it was the comfort of knowing I wasn’t going through this by myself. When I started seeing the death toll rise, I decided to stop complaining. Not everything is about me, and I must learn to adapt.
And as time like this continued, I realized something. Projecting how your life is going to be and being upset when you don’t reach it…isn’t fair. Life doesn’t happen in a cookie-cutter way. It never has. Even in those monotonous days, there were little things to be happy about. There had to be. Closure happens when you let go of your expectations and move on with what life has currently given you and make the best of it. My future isn’t wasted just because there’s a snag in the line. It just means I have to stay positive and work on untying the knot. This whole pandemic taught me that being an adult means you learned how to accept instead of expect. You work with what you have.
Now, I accept that my lectures will sometimes suck, and I do not expect my professors to be personable or interesting. So, when I get a lecture that is funny and fun, I am that more excited and grateful. For now, I am in college and I am hopeful this will soon be resolved as the vaccine becomes more readily available. I now feel more grateful for the special moments that come into my life.
This is the story of Joseph Alvarez
Joseph was looking forward to graduating from high school and starting college life when COVID-19 struck and ruined all his plans. Even though his graduation and college experience were drastically altered, he has found peace in his new normal and is hopeful for a brighter future. He hopes to one day achieve his dream of becoming a marine biologist and traveling the world. Currently, he dreams of making it through a long day of recorded lectures without dozing off. Joseph still lives, laughs, and loves through keeping his spirits high and focusing on his blessings. In his free time, he still loves to hang out with his friends at the skate park. He also enjoys reading a good book during his downtime.
This story first touched our hearts on December 17, 2020
Writer: Melodie Harris | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker