Precollegiate pandemic ponderings

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

For admissions offices, every year is a bit like the movie Groundhog Day: every year is a repeat of the one before. And after a while, I suppose, it must seem repetitive. But for high school seniors, it’s your only chance, and we are forced to know that all too well. There are endless college application-related Reddit threads and websites such as College Confidential with guidance on standardized testing, how to write college applications, and even “Chance Me’s,” an anonymous user’s guess on the chances the original poster (OP) could get into “X” college. Not to mention the pressure from other students, family members, and obviously, yourself. As you can probably guess, this results in tremendous amounts of stress on the students. And, for a while, thoughts of where I was going to end up for college consumed my brain. The online forums, unfortunately, had thousands of other students who were just as worried, and all those concerns fed into my anxiety even more. But the pandemic made me switch my focus to the parts of my life that took precedence over my college whereabouts.

My grandma’s Alzheimer’s worsened rather quickly because of the isolation. She had several hip surgeries that limited her movement and found that the easiest form of exercise was swimming. My grandparents went swimming every day as part of a routine that helped stimulate her memory, but as a result of the pandemic, that routine vanished and it became difficult for my grandpa to replace that stimulation within their home.

As the pandemic progressed and her health worsened, the number of attacks on Asians grew as well. But because I live in such a progressive area with a close-knit community, I felt as if the closest I would come to such racism would be through the news. Although often my family and I were the only Asians in the room, my community never made me feel as if I didn’t belong. But as my mother and I walked through our local flower market, a woman spewed racist remarks at my mother and me, one of which included that we were the cause of the virus. As I was about to yell back at her, my mother squeezed my arm and firmly told me to keep quiet. Later in the car, she told me how she had been in several of these situations and that it was best to stay put. But is that really best? I thought back to my grandma who, at that time, had only just received access to her local swimming pool, but now must constantly worry about the hate that is directed towards her in every attack against the Asian elderly.

However, even through the hardship and stress of the pandemic and all the unfortunate experiences that came out of it, I was still concerned about making sure my Common Application essay was perfect or that I listed all of my achievements during my interviews. But was all that really worth it? I ended up committing to a college I am more than thankful to attend but regretful of the time I lost not devoting it to my family and their health. The pandemic, and so many aspects of it, were and still are aggravating. Yet, it has shone a light on the parts of my life that were ignored under a pile of books. I became the main caretaker of my grandma (as we have a strong bond) through her transition to the Alzheimer’s care facility, and I’ve also begun to produce a documentary on my community’s origins as an African American community following the Civil War. I know during my four years at Carnegie Mellon, I will be confronted with immeasurable amounts of stress, but I hope I can look back at the time my 17-year-old self lived through a pandemic and gain some confidence to keep pushing forward.