Sarah Himmelsbaugh ’21: On New Year’s Eve 2019, millions of Americans gathered together to ring in the new decade. We counted down with Ryan Seacrest and all those in Times Square. Our faces lit up, our hearts filled with hope and excitement for the upcoming year. For teenagers across the country, the new decade meant proms, high school graduation, starting college and/or a career, maybe even getting married. We made predictions of what our lives would look like in 2020 and beyond. No one predicted the events that would unravel in the year to come.
In the meantime, on New Year’s Eve, a cluster of severe pneumonia cases centering around Wuhan, China led to the discovery of a new virus. While scientists first discovered a human coronavirus in the mid 1960s, this particular virus in Wuhan appeared different. It proved to be faster spreading and more severe.
“I remember hearing about the virus in Wuhan right after New Year’s. I don’t remember thinking much about it. It was ignorant of me, but in a way, it felt so far away. It wasn’t until the second week of March when my teachers started talking about the possibility of shutdowns that I thought ‘this is getting real’,” Sarah Haque ‘21 said.
Flash forward: it is now April 2021. Spring, summer, Halloween, Christmas, and New Year’s passed once again. A year goes by with seemingly endless coronavirus cases. The pandemic wrecked what was once the “normal” and changed everyone’s life. Americans grieve the loss of their own and of those across the globe. Meanwhile, everyday life looks drastically different.
Just over a year ago, a school day at Romeo High School proved to be nothing out of the ordinary. Students entered the front doors and smiled at each other. We could see each other laugh, see each other frown, and everything in between. There were hugs, crowded stairwells, jam-packed lunch and classrooms.
This year, students tread through the parking lot with face masks looped around their ears, taking some final breaths of fresh air in before pulling them up prior to entering the building. Some will see their friends throughout the school day, while others will join classes through a computer screen. There will be no hugs, no sitting shoulder to shoulder at lunch, no facial expressions to read.
Above all else, we acknowledge all that communities across the country faced struggle through the past year. We acknowledge that, at the bare minimum, everyone experienced through multiple lockdowns, the cancellations of things they looked forward to, being distanced from loved ones, and the fear of catching and spreading a deadly virus. On top of this, many also experienced the loss of a loved one. Loss proves to be a common theme throughout the past year, and we continue to go about our new lives whilst working to cope with it.
However, if you look for it, there emerges a unique beauty that coincides with the pain of the past year. In New York City, citizens cheered each night for healthcare workers, their appreciation filling the streets with noise. Many families became closer given all the time at home. The creative industry is thriving, as difficult events combined with more “free” time allow artists of all ages to dedicate themselves to their work. We appreciate the value of life more, of being alive, and of each other. Smiles mean more, laughter means more, the privileges of healthcare and education are more highly valued.
“If I could go back and speak to my March 2020 self, I would tell him that he needs to look for the positive. I would tell him that it will all work out, and to focus on the things he can control because that is the only way to make it through. Many things throughout the upcoming year will be out of his control, and that is okay. Recognize that and don’t stress about it because it turns out okay in the end,” Charles McKenney ‘21 said.
Just over a year into a pandemic, the one thing that prevails over all else is the strength of Americans. By focusing on the light that peers through cracks in the overwhelming darkness, we can make it through anything. The Romeo community works tirelessly to do just that.
Image credits: Maya Szatai, Yale Medicine