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I thought the phrase “Be careful what you wish for” was supposed to be a threat. 

I’m not implying that I wished for a mass pandemic to shut down the planet, but I have wished (on multiple occasions) for just a small break from school. Like millions of other kids my 7th, 8th, and 9th grade years were significantly impacted by COVID-19; we wore masks, socially distanced, and even “zoomed” from time to time. I remember returning to school for the first time after a seemingly never-ending quarantine, and I felt like it took something away from me. Sure, I missed my friends and family throughout quarantine, but the return to normalcy post-pandemic was more difficult for me than quarantine itself. I missed the comfort of my home, and I dreaded facing the pressure each long school day had to offer.

Take a second and think: Is there such a thing as a “good” morning? Typically, when I walk into my first-period class each morning, the teacher gives me a cordial smile or even just a gentle nod, along with a simple “Good morning.” I return the smile, and reply, “Morning.” Not “Good Morning,” just “Morning.” It’s nothing personal (most of the time), but I don’t think any morning where I have to wake up at 6 a.m., only to sit in small classrooms all day and listen to my teachers talk counts as a “good” morning. 

By contrast, every morning during quarantine was a good morning. Although I still had to wake up at the normal time, I got to stay in my bed and do school in the comfort of my own home. Some mornings I woke up and showered, made breakfast, or hopped on the “frothy-coffee” trend that effectively diverted everyone’s attention from Starbucks to their kitchens. It only took the entire world shutting down for us to dust off our Keurigs, but we got there eventually. 

You never realize how much you love something until it’s taken away. Although I was hybrid upon my return to school, and therefore virtual half the time, it still sucked knowing that the next day after a mentally and physically nourishing day at home was a draining day at school. It feels so degrading for a young teenager to wake up at 6 am and not have the time to eat breakfast or take a nice warm shower. Yes, waking up early is also an option, but personally, I like having at least eight hours of sleep. But of course, once quarantine ended I, along with everyone else, had to readapt to waking up early and having to rush out of the house, no breakfast included. 

It was difficult. Some mornings I cried over the fact that I had to go to school. My mom always thought someone was bullying me, but that wasn’t the reason why I didn’t want to go to school; in reality, I just lacked a little slice of home. Sometimes I convinced my mom to take me to Dunkin’ or McDonald’s for breakfast in the morning, and even though it was just breakfast, it gave me the comfort I needed to make it through the day, the comfort of knowing that I could make each day better.

My middle school was relatively small; there were only sixteen kids in my eighth-grade class. As an introvert, it’s more difficult to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. In my class, I was labeled as one of the “smart kids” because I knew how to do basic math and how to write complete sentences (high standards, I know). But every time another classmate of mine would point out the B+ on my test that they got an A on, it hurt me. It felt like I wasn’t good enough for anyone. If I wasn’t the “smart kid,” what was I? It was hard being the big fish. 

During quarantine, I was my own fish in my own pond – a pond with no judgment from any other fish. No standards, no hierarchy, no disappointment. I’m not proud to say I never learned anything in Algebra One in eighth grade because I was on Zoom fifty percent of the time, and couldn’t see the board, but I never really cared. There was no one to point out if I got a question wrong or didn’t understand a new concept right away. 

During quarantine, I realized it wasn’t the B that I cried over, but the failure to live up to everyone else’s expectations. I loathed the thought of stepping back into school because I knew I’d have to re-establish my “smart person who cries about a B” persona. However, when that time came I decided to continue my “quarantine attitude” – I kept my grades to myself, I didn’t let anyone bring me down, and if I got a B, that’s the best I could do, and that was enough for me.

I hated having the mentality that I needed to please everyone else, but I found a good medium when I started high school. Going from a middle school with class sizes as small as sixteen kids to a high school with class sizes as small as one hundred twenty was interesting, to say the least. I wasn’t super smart, but I also didn’t struggle academically either. I was average. While I was comforted with knowing that I’d most likely never be defined by my grades, it killed me inside to know I’d never live up to the highest standards. But I coped; I kept going, and I focused on myself, my work, and my abilities. I’ve always been told that the only person anyone is ever worrying about is themselves. That’s a statement that I’ve seen be proven wrong multiple times. The only person anyone ever should be worrying about is themselves. That’s a motivation for the future.

When I look back on my time in quarantine and my journey through hybrid learning, I’ve come to appreciate the simple things in life that comforted me during a time of mass hysteria. I won’t lie, I kind of miss the frothy coffee. Even though it was only four years ago, it’s sort of nostalgic now. Yes, we all hated the taste of it. Yes, we all forced ourselves to drink it for the sake of being “trendy,” but it was comforting to know that we all were in the same boat. 

Quarantine allowed me to embrace the individuality that I barely knew I had to begin with. Despite other challenges upon returning to school, I now had a newfound sense of individuality that acted as a shield against any outside judgment. This helped with my transition to high school, as I focused on my own growth and abilities. Looking ahead, I’m going to try and stay true to myself because I know what’s best for me.

Cecilia Sacharok

Cecilia Sacharok is a high school junior at Archmere Academy in Claymont, Delaware and is a member of her school's Aevidum Club. Cecilia enjoys reading, writing, shopping, and watching movies (her favorite being Marvel).