A High School Senior On How COVID Changed Him—And It’s Not All Bad

Our new reality.

  • Category
  • Written by
    JJ Hoffman
  • Illustrated by
    Yuiko Sugino

For most of my teenage years, life was filled with a certain routine. It was a life of certainty. Take, for example, 2020, when I was in 10th grade. Breakfast of waffles at 8:30 a.m., a turkey and cheese sandwich at noon and track practice at 4 p.m. I would spend a couple hours each night doing homework punctuated with breaks of YouTube or texting friends; a quick dinner, and then I’d pack my bag for the next day. On weekends I would hang out with my dogs and do more homework. Though it may sound mundane, I enjoyed the ordinary.

On March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Suddenly the world as I knew it stopped. Classes, now online, were only 30 minutes long, and school was four days a week. My track practice changed from running 800-meter repeats at Valley College to running up and down the stairs in my Sherman Oaks house. I now had time to sleep in and watch TV. Though the circumstances that caused the changes were unsettling, I embraced it. After all, we thought we were just getting an extra two weeks of spring break.

With each school closure extension, I felt more confined and restless. Trapped in my house, the creamy coffee color of the walls, with windows in every direction, seemed to taunt me. Isn’t it the perfect May day to be outside hanging with friends? The novelty of the pandemic started to wear on me and my peers. Instead of laughing at seeing my classmates on the Zoom screen during our English class and being entertained by all the unusual backgrounds, you could almost hear a collective sigh from the class. We were all feeling a new phenomenon: “Zoom fatigue.”

Uncertainty was everywhere. When could we go back to school? What would the pandemic do to society? Will someone I love get sick and die? And for the first time in my life, I had to learn to confront real fear—fear about the big stuff in life.

The confinement I felt ultimately made me realize my total reliance on school and school activities. They were what got me through the day and gave me structure. While those things are certainly positive, I discovered that I needed more.

I learned to become more self-reliant with the aspiration of becoming a better version of myself—a person who is more thoughtful and aware. I acknowledged that I wasn’t contributing to my community and wanted to change that. I joined the Studio City Neighborhood Council and YMCA Youth and Government program to get a better understanding of what was important to me and how I might help create change in my community.

I never would have thought that a pandemic could make me discover more about myself or help me become aware of the world outside of my bubble. I truly understand now that uncertainty is part of life: One day, everything can change. I admit, I still enjoy the ordinary—a new ordinary.

JJ Hoffman is a 2022 graduate of Campbell Hall. In the fall he will attend Pomona College.