I was over halfway through my senior year of high school when the COVID-19 Pandemic hit my hometown. In January 2020, I looked at my classmates and told them that they were overreacting and the disease would not likely spread to where we lived. In April, teachers were crying and sending us home for an extended spring break. By May of 2020, I was graduating outside in a parking lot as my parents’ truck dropped me off and picked me up at the podium where I would receive my diploma. Months of news reports dragged on with no end in sight.
My first year of college I was determined to spend out-of-state so I ended up in Kentucky, majoring in Musical Theatre and keeping in touch with a long-distance boyfriend. Classes were almost completely online. I played video games while my astronomy professor droned on about the science of stars, then had a meltdown because somebody played a prank on our Zoom class. I took ballet while wearing a mask, then dropped the class due to hopelessness. I had two friends and my phone with no real social life outside of this. The campus remained an isolated ghosttown. The people around me went home on the weekends to be with family while I remained stuck in a prison resembling a dorm room.
Once the first spring semester rolled around, I was newly single, hating life and moving home to Minnesota where at the very least I would have my family. Classes were barely beginning to transition back to in-person with social distancing and masks in mind. It was hard to focus on anything when my glasses were fogging up with every breath I took. Arriving at MNSU, my major switched to something more broad, Communication Studies, as I worried about money and how I would obtain a job after college. I minored in Creative Writing since I have always had a knack for hiding in my imagination until the world eases its grip on me.
In my first creative writing course, I sat next to a girl who seemed eager to begin the class. With masks, it is hard to seem approachable or have the courage to approach someone else. It is as if masks act as a social barrier, despite their purpose being to protect us from disease. Yet, she made conversation with me completely out-of-the-blue. With every class that followed, I followed in suit and became less afraid of talking to others as the girl became my best friend. I overcame the barrier that had dominated my face for years.
The year of 2022 brought the freedom many desired: the removal of the mask mandate. With it, classrooms sprung to life. Students became more outgoing and social as professors sighed in relief when they could finally have more of a connection with their students. I found myself engaging in class discussions more than ever and getting involved in different organizations to make friends and do what I love; creative writing. I decided to pursue my love for storytelling and change the world with my words.
In 2020, we witnessed the world turn upside-down unlike anything we had ever encountered before. Our lives and fates were tossed and twisted. We learned that everything can be taken from us and our lives can change in an instant. As I am about to graduate in a week, I have reflected on the realization that has been presented to me time and again that nothing is promised to be permanent and tomorrow is not guaranteed. In our new days without masks, fear and death, the only thing that is holding us back is ourselves.
Write to Grace Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Header Photo: Grace Anderson is pictured above in a COVID-19 mask she wore during her final performing arts project during her spring semester in Kentucky. (Grace Anderson/ The Reporter)