Clarksburg, Maryland, U.S.A. – I was preparing myself for high school before my 8th grade school year even started. My YouTube feed was littered with freshman advice videos and school supply hauls. I had an arsenal of conversation starters in my back pocket, ready to be enthusiastically thrown at unsuspecting 14-year-olds on the first day of school.
And then the coronavirus struck. I was confident for the first few weeks of online learning. We would go back soon enough, right? My first day of high school would be just as I expected.
But as the pandemic raged on, our return – more like our entry – to high school vanished completely. I had to go ‘back to school’ from my kitchen counter in pajamas rather than in a freshly painted classroom in a neatly ironed polo.
As disappointing as it was, sleeping in and eating ice cream during math class was definitely a plus.
I was so excited by the idea of relaxing at home instead of worrying about remembering my locker combination that it took me a while to notice that I was missing the biggest part of the high school experience: the people.
I have no friends. As bleak as it sounds, making friends over Zoom is so painfully awkward that nobody really wants to even try. I’ve never been the best at meeting people, and it’s been even harder now that I can’t actually be around people. It has to be completely self-generated – no interaction is spontaneous, and for students like me who don’t know anyone, that’s scary.
It’s even scarier to send a private chat message on Zoom to a classmate, knowing that a teacher can read it. What would we talk about? Was making a friend worth the risk of getting embarrassed in front of the whole class?
Talking about regular ‘teenage things’ with the fear of the teacher reading is prohibiting me from trying to send texts to potential friends.
To make things even harder, it feels like nobody else wants to meet new people. The relaxed distance learning policies at my school allow everyone to switch off their microphones and cameras for the entirety of classes. I don’t even know what my classmates sound like, let alone how I can make a friend by complimenting their hair.
My school has barely done anything to combat this. Optional ‘community’ meetings were set in place, but nobody ever attended.
I was the only person who showed up the first week, and I spent 15 minutes trying not to cringe as the advisor complained about things too trivial to pay attention to.
I didn’t bother attending the second week, but I checked the attendance list. Nobody was there.
Even in club meetings that people signed up for voluntarily, making friends is hard. Students are spread out across four or five meetings a week, so nobody really gets to stick with the same people for more than an hour. With all the club and class time taken up by coursework and competition preparation, there’s no room for simple socialization.
Friends are hard to make even in person, but with Zoom calls and muted mics becoming the school norm, I feel isolated and alone.
Sreehitha Gandluri is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.