Discovering joy through shared hardships

J-Staff reflects on the pandemic a year later

Reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic (Maddy Williams)

The COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. On March 13, 2020, students exited Blackman High School, expecting a short break while the school was deep cleaned. However, students did not return to in-person learning for the 2019-20 school year. No grades were collected from March through May except for recovery work for the third quarter. In August 2020, schools reopened with some students in-person, and many learning remotely. 

The journalism staff remained active during the pandemic, creating articles and publishing work from March 2020 to present. As a staff, we reflected on this past year—our hardships, joys, and growth. 

Maddy: COVID-19 was an unexpected twist to my senior year. I continued to be hopeful that the pandemic would end by fall 2020, then by Christmas, and now in spring. I have been a distance learner for the majority of my senior year. 

I had to navigate college applications and juggle online classes. My biggest goal is to take mostly in-person classes in college.  

Despite the difficulties of losing a normal senior year, there have been many positives. I have enjoyed study dates with friends at our favorite coffee shops. I’ve had more time to get outside—whether that’s going on a run or doing my homework on my back porch. The pandemic cannot take away the little joys of this year. 

Zoe: For me, as for many people, the pandemic has been a source of constant stress. In ways that are both directly and indirectly related to the global health crisis, my mental health has reached a low this school year in many respects. 

However, 2020 allowed me to meet new people who have since become major influences in my life. Without this year, I would never have made such strong connections. It comforts me to know that despite everything, there will always be genuine, caring people to rely on. Experiencing the pandemic as a student is certainly a unique and scary experience, but also one that has the potential to unite us. My hope is that throughout all the struggles, we can [learn to] connect better with one another. Our empathy is amplified by the anxieties and fears we have shared. Perhaps this unity can foster hope in humanity and leave understanding rather than fear in its wake. 

Sophie: At first, the pandemic was an unexpected and unwelcome occurrence in my life. I wanted it to be over as soon as possible because it was inconvenient for me. While I still want it to be over, a year of self-reflection has taught me that good things can come from bad situations. The rainbow comes after the storm, so to speak. Throughout all the lockdowns, quarantines, political drama, and personal life events, I have become a much stronger person. 

I have become strong in ways I did not think were possible. I have also made friends with so many genuine people that accept me where I am and want me to grow. They have had a major positive influence on my mental and physical health during the pandemic, and I will always be indebted to them for that. My parents have also held my hand through the many difficulties of this year. I have them, and so many others, to thank for helping me survive COVID so far.  

Kenzie: When COVID-19 first emerged last March, I never thought I would be sitting here writing about the effects of it an entire year later. It was a break from the constant stress of school, but soon the virus became the source of it. I found myself gradually losing friendsmotivation, and myself. Everyone knows the virus shut everyone in, away from everything except their families, thoughts, and every noise in the dark you had never noticed before at three a.m. 

Somehow, staying up at all hours of the night with no concept of time turned into a blur. Hours turned into days, days into weeks, weeks into months. Every day was a struggle to even get up. However, at some point I had to try, and that is an important lesson I have learned throughout this tremendously difficult year. It is okay to not know something or not be motivated, but if I can still try to get up, start my day, and say Today will be a good day” putting that step forward gives me more hope for myself every day. 

TaylorCOVID-19 has affected everyone in many ways, good or bad. Good in many ways for me. The virus helped me in ways in which it damaged other people. COVID sent everyone home and on lockdown, but that lockdown meant I did not have school. School and the atmosphere at school were damaging to me. After we went back to school in August, everyone was different and more understanding. COVID-19 is helping to shape people. 

COVID-19 also helped me keep friends and family happy. Because of wearing masks constantly, I was able to make my faces under my mask without anyone noticing I was unhappy with what was just said. I was able to keep my opinions to myself because they could not see how my face was underneath my mask.  

Christian: Being as much of a sports fan as I am, my first memory of COVID-19 was that Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon when everything stopped. First, it was the NBA, then March Madness, and then everything else that followed. Another disappointment was that our boys’ basketball team here at Blackman was going to play in the state tournament the next week and most definitely had the potential to win a state championship. After all the cancellations with sports, it just felt like we were going into a black hole that we would never get out of. 

It wasn’t all bad, though, we got an unprecedented amount of time off from school, which allowed me to play a lot of video games and watch a lot of new shows and movies. I also found that a had a lot of interest in things that I had no idea I was interested in. I think we can all say that none of us ever expected this to go on for this long. Hopefully, everything is back to normal after this summer for my senior year, and I can look back at COVID as something that was not completely awful but something that had some good come out of it.  

Emma: COVID-19 has presented a lot of changes in my lifeboth good and bad. As someone with underlying health conditions I have to remain extremely cautious. So, I missed a lot of opportunities to see friends and make memories. It put me in somewhat of a dark place; being isolated from everything I knew so suddenly was difficult. I think the hardest part was seeing everyone out and doing things and me realizing how badly I wanted to go with them. 

But it gave me time to grow myself as a person. I learned how much I cherish friendships and seeing others. I learned to make time to call those who matter the most. Last but not least, I learned that the viral TikTok trend for whipped coffee is not good at all. But in the end, COVID-19 has been a learning experience, about who I am and what I should not take for granted.  

Jenene: COVID-19 has definitely been an experience. For me, I was lucky to be stuck at home all summer, as my brother was going to college in the fall of 2020. I managed to spend a lot of time with my family just hanging out, playing video games, etc. The amount of time that I’ve spent at home has allowed me to pursue my interests and find content creators that I enjoy watching. 

While there were a few positives about COVID, most of the things that happened were negative. With the quarantine, staying at home all the time deteriorated my mental health. I found that school was harder to focus on with so many distractions inside the house, as I am a distance learner. Throughout the pandemic, I have not been very hopeful of things going back to normal, but at least, soon, everyone is being vaccinated. Hopefully things will be the same as before, maybe even better. 

Matt: When it comes to junior year, there is no doubt that it can be stressful. However, I was not expecting a pandemic to increase that stress. COVID-19, for me, was as much of a curse as it was a blessing. At the beginning of this year, I was not sure what to expect. Having to balance my social, home, and school life, all the while following basic procedures to stay safedefinitely proved to be a struggle. During this time, the ever-growing worry of what was to come hung over my head every day. 

Furthermore, I had to help my grandparents move, as they have just moved from Virginia to TullahomaI say COVID-19 was a blessing, as well, because you never really know what you have until it is gone. From the beginning of the year, I have not only grown as a person, but also I have experienced feelings and learned things I never thought I would. The pandemic is a bad thing, for sure, but I am thankful for the lesson we have all learned, as most of the world has seen that anything could happen in the future. I am sure most can agree that having a pandemic was the last thing we ever thought about during 2020. I have no idea of what is to come, but I am able to keep a positive mindset through my friends and family around me.  

BrenleeObviously, COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s lives. I think that the pandemic has really helped me to find positives, even where it seems like there are none. The pandemic has been extremely draining for everyone, whether that be mentally or physicallyMost of my family has had COVID within the past year, including me. It was a weird experience to know that I was living in a pandemic, quarantining, etc. It’s strange to know the entire country and even some parts of the world as “quarantined” and wearing masks everywhere. At first, it seemed like you would only see this in movies. Now, after a year, I forget that they didn’t have to wear them in movies. It has become a normal thing for me. 

With all the strange things that have happened throughout the past year, I do think that it helped me grow as a person. Because of COVID, I have expanded my knowledge of pandemics, government policies, etc. I think that it changed me a lot. Being alone that much when we were first quarantined, I was able to do things that I wanted to do and focus on myself more. I was able to find new hobbies that I really enjoyed, teach myself new skills, and once again, expand my knowledge and learn more about government and politics. I genuinely believe that if COVID had never happened, I would be a completely different person.  

Ms. Walker: Wow. In one year, our lives have changed so much. I want to talk about what hasn’t changed.  

In 2020, our annual JStaff senior celebration was canceled, but we celebrated our seniors anyway. I made three deliveries to every senior’s home or work. JStaff (still publishing during the pandemic) published shoutouts to our seniors to give them a little bit of joy in a time of great disappointment and apprehension for them. 

The editorial crew of 2020-21 JStaff created a 20 year anniversary edition in the toughest circumstances imaginable – on Zoom, with software that was driving us batty, while two dealt with illness. I can’t thank them enough for their hard work and dedication. Maddy, Mia, Jenene, Emma, and Zoe – you are rock stars!  

In the early months of the pandemic, I mailed my nephews care packages when I couldn’t see them. I’ve connected with family and friends through texts, calls, hikes, outdoor meals, and other distance measures. Connections are important, and the pandemic made it necessary to change routines to make those connections happen 

So, for me, 2020-21 will be remembered not only for the hardships, but also for the love and laughter shared with my students, my family, and my friends, valued more because I saw them less. 

Mia: COVID-19 means something different to everyone, even though we’ve all experienced it. For me, it means losing the chance to say goodbye properly. Everyone has had it rough this year, but it’s a little different for the seniors because we’ll never have the chance to get back some things we missed. 

This year has taught me not to take even the most mundane things in life for granted because even though they may not seem that important in the moment, it’ll always be the memories that matter. I would have wanted this year to be an I did that rather than an I wish I could have done that.”