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Returning to normalcy?

I have a confession: I haven’t taken a final exam in nearly three years, when I was in tenth grade. During the first part of Covid, my school canceled classes and replaced them with a few pre-recorded lectures before ultimately canceling final exams. Then, during eleventh grade, finals could only help your grade, so most of my school – myself included – chose not to take them. And in twelfth grade, my school offered senior exemptions in an attempt to keep students in class, which led to me once again not taking any finals. This semester marks the first time I will take finals in almost three years, and I don’t feel ready at all.

That’s just one of the many ways in which this year is completely different from the last two years of my education and life. Also consider: this is the first time I’ll spend the majority of the year not wearing a mask in class, and only the second time that I am in-person and not going from one zoom lecture to the next. It also marks the end of the minimum 50% grade on missing assignments that my high school implemented to reduce the number of students who were failing, and the end of events being canceled due to fears of Covid transmission. I can walk into a restaurant or a public space without needing a mask, and I don’t have to constantly look around for signs that tell me what the rules are wherever I am. I can interact with people without having some space between us or while wearing masks if we’re indoors. But most importantly, this is the first year in which it truly feels like we’re starting to return to what life was like pre-Covid.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of things are still different— from the small things like still having to wear masks on the C1 (a decision which I understand and respect) to the very big things like the many friends, family members and other loved ones who we sadly lost (but will never forget) during the pandemic — but it feels like we are at least beginning to return to the world that once was. At the same time, I don’t think it’ll be the same, with all that has happened these last few years. So many changes – little and small, quick and slow, loud and quiet, good and bad – happened during this time. We started to use Zoom for meetings and events, we adjusted our economic system to reduce the risk of supply chain disruption, and we changed how we interacted with friends. It brings to mind the ship of Theseus, an old thought experiment about a boat which over time had every board, nail and rope replaced, with the question being about if it was still the same boat or not. With all the little changes and alterations, is our world the same as it was? And more importantly, why does this matter?

However, all of this discussion about normalcy ignores the fact that what is normal is a constantly shifting and hard to define concept. Just like good or evil, we can grasp and understand it but we struggle to express it without resorting to a complex argument or a bunch of terminology. We’ve been living in a new normal, and us not seeing it as normal comes from our inability or (often reasonable and understable) reluctance to adapt to our new world and all that comes with it. But that doesn’t mean that we have to accept our current world — it just means we must actively stride toward what we want to see in it. In other words, we must be the change we want to see in the world, to paraphrase Gandhi. To me, that means being prepared for my finals, as small a change as that may be. Rather than taking the test without preparation or cramming the night before the exam, I am going to study extensively so that when I take my finals, I come into them ready. In doing this, I am able to achieve what I want and even though it is a small change, I find satisfaction in being able to bring tangible change to my world. And I believe that each and everyone of you can help bring your own desired world to fruition, even if that just means taking a few small steps. Trust me when I say that doing so isn’t too hard once you get started and that it feels great to accomplish it. And so, I encourage everyone to actually take the steps needed to achieve their goals and bring the world they want to fruition. 


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