Our first Saturday on campus, a few dorms gathered on the Great Lawn, but since we were still in quarantine, we could only sit and walk around. There were no milkshakes, ice cream trucks, or anything of the sort, and the house counselors had to chaperone us. Sitting on the damp grass, those first ten minutes of life outside were pure, awkward pain; we probably collectively spent more time tearing up the grass than talking or listening to each other’s words.
As we slowly recalled the concept of small talk, it was still awkward—with house counselors ever so often loudly reminding us to stay six feet apart and the slightly biting, slightly fresh air—but when the dust settled, I found myself familiar with many more names and faces.
I have not seen the whole of Andover campus, but the social events allowed me to meet the people who turn this place into more than a series of buildings. When I looked at the other dorms, they were no longer blocks of varying sizes and shapes but houses filled with real people.
That first Saturday on campus back in mid-September was an exhausting day, but I enjoyed every second of it. I felt I recovered a semblance of life before Covid-19 and that I could finally visualize life here in a way I could not before—this campus was not in fact empty, and for some reason that was a revelation to me.
In real life, no one can turn off their camera and mute. Speaking requires more than fingers flying over a keyboard, and with that, all the more awkwardness but also all the more awareness. This was genuine and pure social interaction, with all the pros and all the cons. The kind of exchange I had all but forgotten existed. It requires much more of us to speak to someone in person: listening to their voice, recognizing their face, watching their body language. Because of the effort it exhausts, we are also much more gratified after. We are humans, and no matter how introverted, some amount of social interaction is always necessary to build a support system and group of friends you can rely on whenever in need. As much as we may complain about the cold of the night or say we “only went for the food,” we gain much more than a sugar crash from these socials: they are, after all, a taste of the typical school experience we all sorely miss. It reminds me of eating lunch with my friends, sitting around a table, fighting for a seat (or losing and eating standing up). It reminds me of what school without a pandemic looming over my head was like, because I feel a little of that carefree and cheery energy returning to my life.
Watching so many humans chatting in the same space reminds me that this isolated lifestyle will not last forever and that I’m here not only to learn about poetry or precalculus, but also to connect with others. I want Andover to be my home, a place where I can make friends, mistakes, decisions. In order for that to be the case, I need to know the people around me. School is more than a collection of students; it is a community where we can comfortably, happily spend the next four years, and it is events like these that allows us Juniors to begin forming one.
One of the reasons I chose to leave my old school, old friends, and old home to attend Andover is that I wanted a “second home,” the immersive experience of boarding school. After the virus made sure that we would not start school normally, my parents had hoped to convince me to stay home entirely, telling me, “What’s the point? You’re only going to stay in your dorm room anyway.” It’s not worth the risk, not worth the effort. Because of Covid-19, I knew a typical start to high school was unrealistic, but I was still determined to attend in person, clinging to the hope that I’d be able to enjoy any piece of the Andover experience. Thankfully, my parents allowed me the final decision, and, in large part because of these socials, I have been able to at least glimpse what I had pictured in my head in real life.
Balancing social distancing, Covid-19 safety, and a class of nervous teenagers is a nearly impossible feat. But, though the events are in no way perfect, I have not regretted attending any of them. Stuck in our dorm rooms, I start to forget how many people there are in my grade. I start to forget I am with brilliant students from all over, and being reminded of that allows me to remember, even if just for one second, how much larger the world is than my dorm. School is the people you’re surrounded by, and flying all the way from our corners of the globe to congregate on this campus, these events are a wonderful way to remember, if even only a little, what life was like before the pandemic and what life would be like if Covid-19 had never spread. It can be awkward, it can be painful, and it can be tiring, but at the end of high school, I know I won’t look back on this term and wish I had chosen to stay in my bed alone.