Anusha Bapat

Opinion Editor

I look to my right in the hallways of High School North at 7:15 in the morning and see the lost freshman attempting to find their way to the theater, unaware that its open doors are an arm’s distance from where they stand. When I turn left, I bump into a cranky fifteen-year-old. Just by the dread in his eyes, I knew he was a sophomore. I once had those eyes, even if the only thing they looked at for a whole year was a computer screen. Walking straight down the hallways, I located the spot where my friend group sat for the entire freshman year. I grinned behind my mask, remembering all the times my one friend fell off the table from laughing too hard. I was eager to recreate those memories with the same people, at the same spot, but as a junior. Being a junior feels unreal and almost made up. I still feel like the freshman that has to look twice at the carpets to notice the carpet change from the normal hallway to the A hallway. It shocks me that in a year, I’ll be writing college applications, asking for teacher recommendations, and waving goodbye to my dearest friends. 

 My thoughts are interrupted when I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around and see a face guarded by her jet-black mask, but her favorite burgundy crew neck gives it all away. I see one of my best friends standing there smiling hard behind her mask with her arms wide open to give me a hug. Through my peripheral vision I see the teacher ready to recite the social-distancing speech for the fifth time today, and my friend does too and instantly puts her hands to the side. We walk to the Upper Dining Hall and see a swarm of color, and I’m not talking about the bright American Eagle shirts, but the masks that caught my eye before anything else in the whole dining hall. Surprisingly, everyone’s faces were just as clear and familiar even with the finely cut cloth resting on their faces. I have to be honest: I was a little nervous when I saw my friends clustered at a table, not knowing if the eighteen-month gap affected our relationships, even if social media proved otherwise. But all my conversations picked up right where they left off from March 13th, 2020. 

After late lunch is when I physically felt the real change of the school’s new norms. I started feeling light-headed from wearing a mask over my nose for five hours and it became more difficult to concentrate during my French class. It felt risky to pull my mask down even for one second because of all the wide eyes glaring in my direction. The class goes by awfully quickly, especially for one that has a continuous noise of silence. I think students were still remembering how to raise their hands in class again, speak out in front of twenty-four kids, and ask the teacher to help them with pronunciation. After losing touch with “normal” school for over a year, it felt strange to communicate with other people after seeing them as black squares for a year and now interacting with them six feet in front of me. 

Despite my temporary resentment towards these integrated procedures and initial awkwardness in my classes, I wasn’t willing to complain. Not about the mask mandate, the longer first and last blocks, or the split lunches. No amount of safety adjustments would ever change the contentment I had from just physically being in school and taking in the classroom environment that I missed out on for half of my freshman year and my entire sophomore year. The welcoming school setting has allowed me to fully embrace all aspects of myself, especially the parts that I just couldn’t express through a “start video” option. More importantly, my motivation and drive to attain success have been restored as a result of returning to school. Since the monotonous days are finally over, I now feel like I have a purpose for coming to school, even if the seven-hour schedule, the weekly testing, and daily homework assignments haven’t been different since virtual school. 

It’s not that in-person school has made me eager and passionate to study for tests; rather it has given me the strength to even study for these tests in the first place. Prior to the pandemic, I never understood the irritation behind having to change a routine or adjust to a new work atmosphere. This understanding taught me a lesson as it mentally and physically put me through the wringer by completely changing my life—more for the worse than the better. 

It’s officially 2:50 pm and I push open the doors of the school to see students running to their busses with bags swinging in the air and shoes thumping on the pavement. This unchanged sight brought back all my after-school memories from freshman year and made me grin behind my mask for one of the many times that day. I was reassured that life at school truly was returning back to normal— well, for the most part at least.

Picture Source: Students in California sit in a classroom with masks on to ensure students are safe despite CDC’s mask mandate being removed (abc7.com)

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