Looking back on an unforgettable year
“While people brood, time skips ahead without looking back.”
Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams
“I can’t believe it’s already May!” “Can you believe school is almost over?” “So, are you winding down?”
These were some of the comments and questions I heard over the past couple of weeks as we approach the end of the 2020-2021 school year. As I observed students in classes and on the playground, or attended end-of-the-year events like the Annual Senior Dinner, I alternated between wistfulness and disbelief that this school year will be over very soon.
Although every year has its own rhythm, I think we can agree that this one has been exceptional. The commencement of school with no students on campus seemed like an extension of last year rather than the fresh start filled with promise that the beginning of school usually augurs; we pressed the pause button in May and turned it off in August.
Once students began returning to school in person after Labor Day, time transformed into a series of three-week increments as we moved from one rotation to the next and students came to school some weeks and stayed at home during others. October, November, and December took on a frenetic blur while we grappled with a series of exposures, isolations, and quarantines.
It seems like eons ago that we were sending emails almost daily, and sometimes more than one a day, announcing a new exposure or positive case and having to direct classes or grade levels into distance learning. I would like to recognize and thank Nurses Penny and Monica and Director of Strategic Communications and Marketing Edmund Tijerina for the many, many 5:00 AM text conversations we had after learning of the most recent medical event and preparing our communication strategy.
Since Spring Break, time has resembled in some ways the frenzied feel of any ordinary year as we hurtle toward the end of the school. When people ask every year if we’re “winding down,” I explain that in schools, we typically don’t slow down in the spring; on the contrary, we speed ahead full bore until the final day and then come to a screeching halt. That’s true in any year, and remains so for 2020-2021.
On the other hand, time this April and May has reflected the extraordinary nature of this school year. As educators all over the country have commented, students, faculty, and staff are exhausted. A year of alternating between in-person classes, distance learning, and concurrent teaching has worn people out. Coming on top of the general anxiety around COVID, people appear more ready for a break than in other school years.
When students look back on this year, they may characterize it as having distinct phases between attending school from home and being on campus. Typically, following their return to school in person, children and young adults remark on how much more enjoyable it is to be in close, but not too close, physical proximity to their friends and teachers.
Perhaps one lesson we’ve learned this past year is the wisdom in the words of the Dalai Lama, “We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”
Don’t get me wrong. Technology is wonderful and we have discovered great functions for Zoom and Microsoft Teams that we will continue to use in the future. Still, there’s no substitute for the companionship of our friends and faculty/staff in person.
Recently watching a delightful movie called “About Time” that plays with the theme of time travel left me wondering about this past year. Time can pass quickly, or it can seem interminable. Perhaps the part of the year when we were working and attending classes remotely felt like the classic film “Groundhog Day.” However, once we returned to school in person, life held more excitement and the hours moved more quickly.
In the future, how will our students look at the period from March 2020-August 2021? Will it be a strange and memorable time or will it mark the beginning of a new way of living and learning? As we plan to open the 2021-2022 school year in August in person, particularly with more and more of our students receiving vaccinations, we can hope that with the passage of time, our Cobras will reminisce on the lessons they learned during this pandemic and the ways they grew.