Easing Back into a Different Normal

By Vivien Zhang ’21

It has been six months of remoteness since COVID-19 forcefully inserted its unwanted presence into our lives. I trust that I speak for the majority when I say that I expected everything to have returned to normal by the time September arrived. I had been overly optimistic –– an attribute I am not usually described as –– and underestimated the viruses persistence and ability to maintain its grasp on the world. I recall dismissing my friend’s now perceptive foreboding of the present situation due to its ‘ridiculousness’ in early April. The misfortune of the 2020 graduates around the world, robbed of an in-person ceremony in June, weighed heavily on our minds. Then all summer long, everyone remained glued to the news as continued debate over Ontario’s reopening plan dominated all conversations, predominantly those shared by worrisome parents. 

Upon arrival at my designated entrance on the first day of school, I spotted some familiar faces from afar and felt as if everything had returned to normal. A year ago, I would have warmly approached my friends to hug and greet them after a long summer apart. Instead, we opted for a simple “hello” and crinkle of our eyes, what we now look for as the indicator of a smile. 

Among the many changes, was the increase of unrecognizable faces; so many of our faces had changed in six months. Of course, the masks added to the challenge of identifying one another. I find it incomprehensible to think that we will be leaving CDS as adults in one year. I scrunch up my eyebrows along with my peers when we are referred to as GYs. It sounds so odd when directed at us! I won’t deny the disappointment of spending my Grade 12 year without the enjoyment of assemblies and coffeehouses by the Learning Stairs, highly acclaimed lunch experiences in our Marché style dining hall, or exciting side-chatter during class (now with desks 6m apart, this isn’t as easy). In spite of the things we will miss, as GYs we can still bask in the privileges we do have, such as use of the exclusive Sue and Michael Burns Grad Lounge and Dining Hall Mezzanine offered solely for our purpose. 

Meanwhile, school has been restructured to be strictly about education, its original and primary purpose. Most extracurriculars have been paused, and so have the larger in-person gatherings which served as a stress reliever for myself and others, such as the weekly Assemblies, drama and musical productions, and sporting events. Socializing has become more complicated while social distancing and wearing a speech-muffling mask, yet we persevere, and are getting better at it with each passing day.

The classroom environment is seemingly more effective since students are active and alert. Classes are largely in-person mixed with accommodations for the handful of students who have chosen to continue with remote learning. On the other hand, the two-hour extension of the period is straining and the content taught in one single class is overwhelmingly heavy. It can become tiresome and suffocating due to the masks. Thankfully, the teachers encourage us to take breaks outside and even enforce mandatory ones to ensure that all students feel physically and mentally comfortable. I can say without a doubt that the courtyards have been fully taken advantage of and enjoyed this past month.  

Navigating through the hallways is surprisingly easier due to the signs that have transformed the walkways into traffic lanes. Automatic sanitizer dispensers, the locks on water fountains as well as the propped open doors are new features and evidence of the thoughtfulness in the reopening preparation that comforted the uneasiness I had felt. At lunch, I was surprised to see the distanced tables in the dining hall that had limited chairs to accommodate a maximum of three students per round table. The food is neatly and considerately packed in blue containers for each of us to retrieve. The quality of the lunch remains spectacular, thanks to the outstanding dining hall staff whom we are grateful to have. There are assortments of different salads, chocolate milk, fruit amongst other snacks to provide us with a diversified set of daily options. Snacks are delivered to classes each day to replenish our energy and stamina. 

As the weeks progress, I’ve gradually become accustomed to the daunting feeling in the pit of my stomach. The hectic newness of school began to fade and a rather monotonous schedule settled into place. Be that as it may, schoolwork and the obligations in my agenda began piling up as October approached. The constant nagging in my head to explore more of my post-secondary pathways amplified each day. Despite the absence of extra-curricular activities, my position as the Peer Tutoring Coordinator and Communications Liaison have kept me preoccupied. I feel grateful for all the programs that have been kept available to us in spite of the challenges in launching them virtually. 

Regardless of my complaints about the restrictions COVID-19 has cast upon us, I do recognize that we are fortunate to have such great staff and teachers to provide us with a safe, yet educational learning experience. On that note, I encourage everyone to continue to follow the safety guidelines to maintain the face-to-face interactions we have in school. It’s simple. Wash your hands. Wear your masks. And social distance!