By Priya Bhanot
Today, friends of mine graduating high school, college and graduate school celebrated years of hard work, sacrifice and struggle in PJ’s over Zoom. It’s not the graduation anyone ever envisioned and as heartwarming as the front yard posters, drive-by celebrations and even the free Krispy Kreme donuts are, the world feels undoubtedly amiss.
As I packed up my freshman dorm in Rhode Island about two and a half months ago, the pandemic felt like a surreal dream. Now, with the news of an indefinite quarantine, this new reality is starting to feel more permanent. I am a premedical student, and for the first time in my life, that feels like an oxymoron. On the one hand, I’m the most strict of my friends; I repost stay-at-home orders, build face masks in my free time, and write to my deans about how health—not economics—must be at the forefront of our decision making.
On the other, the lockdown has become my greatest enemy. My summer plans of research and obtaining my EMT license are cancelled; I have to reconsider my four year plan if school is virtual next year; and, perhaps most horrifying, I am starting to empathize more with Michael Scott than Pam.
The pandemic had stirred up a lot of unease within people, namely because it forces us to juxtapose our roles as individuals with our roles as members of society. There is a social obligation to stay home that has literal life or death consequences. But the economic stress and oppressive uncertainty has begun to take its toll. We look to political, religious and cultural leaders for answers, but the truth is that we are all in this together. No one really knows what the right answer is.
The other day, my 10-year-old brother was assigned to write in a journal for English class every week in an effort to create a primary source about this time. He writes about planting a garden, going on his daily government-sanctioned walk. He writes about baking cookies, because we don’t have brownie ingredients and the trip to the grocery store isn’t worth the risk. He writes about how proud he is to have a first responder for a mom, but how scary it is to see her leave for the hospital. For someone who has only been consciously going to the grocery store for about six years, I wonder if he will ever feel comfortable buying apples without a mask on.
But as one of the franchises getting me through quarantine so famously says, “Life always finds a way.” On the bright side, Covid-19 has shown people how creative happiness can be. The class of 2020 may not have the graduation they always dreamed of, but they have an experience that is uniquely theirs.
No other class (hopefully ever) will ever get to say John Kraskinski and Billie Eilish hosted their prom or that they did NOT have to stand four hours in 100 degree heat listening to name after name being called at a podium to get a flimsy piece of paper. Trust me, graduates, high school graduation is not at all like the movies crack it up to be. Most importantly, we are all coming together to show an outstanding level of support.
Right now, my dorm is being used as a home for health care workers who cannot safely return to their families. I could not imagine a better use.
Priya Bhanot grew up in Morgan Hill and is an incoming sophomore at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where she majors in Neuroscience. She hopes to one day return to the community as a surgeon.