The Columbian: How Cancellations Have Become New Opportunities

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With all schools in New Jersey in distance learning mode, the dedicated staff of Columbia High School’s award-winning student newspaper, The Columbianproudly present their third on-line edition at The following guest column “How Cancellations Have Become New Opportunities” by Karen Kurson, Incoming Co-In Depth Editor of the Columbian, Class of 2021, was originally published by The Columbian on June 17, 2020. With permission from CHS administration and staff at the newspaper, Village Green will be posting more content from the current issue of The Columbian in the coming weeks.

As of May 4, all N.J. schools have been officially closed down and all spring sports canceled, leaving 1.4 million students without the support of their peers and teachers. This has taken a mental health toll on a generation with rising rates of anxiety, especially given the uncertainty that has prevailed. Nina Panzer, ‘22 feels as if “every day is the same” and feels this “is making it harder to be motivated,” which in turn impacts her mental health.

Amid massive protests and the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is changing outside our doors while we quarantine inside. As some students watch parents lose jobs and family members become sick, many students are also losing many of their own opportunities that were scheduled for the end of the school year.

The pandemic whisked away prospects that high school students had anticipated for the upcoming months. Events such as prom, graduation, visual performances and an entire athletic season were all canceled in the span of a few weeks. Aiden Kern-Kensler, ‘21, originally saw the coronavirus as “nothing to worry about”, and was surprised at the change of pace, making the rapid cancellations of school and springtime events “sting even worse”. This robbed students of their hobbies, accomplishments and, for some, the chance to earn scholarships.

The prominent art programs at Columbia High School (CHS) were one casualty of the pandemic, with the cancellation of Special Dance and the school musical, Matilda, after months of intense after-school practice. In an attempt to recover, the cast of Matilda and the Special Dance program both put out virtual alternatives. Through no fault of the administration, these compensations still fell flat. Kern-Kensler, who was part of the ensemble in Matilda, noted that “physically being with people creates an energy that virtual attempts just can’t recreate.”

Despite complaints of loneliness, isolation and the current divisiveness of our country, there remains a sense of unity among students at CHS.

Other opportunities with high stakes, such as AP exams, have also been curtailed. These exams impact college admissions and students had been preparing for them since September, but they were cut to a terse but challenging 45-minute online test. Panzer felt the revised tests were easier, but had “mixed feelings” about them, as they only assessed a fraction of what students had studied.

Many non-school related opportunities for teens have also been impacted. Options for summer jobs and programs dwindled as the majority of summer camps and community pools have shut down, putting students with hopes of earning money over the summer at a disadvantage.

The closure of the NJ Motor Vehicle Commissions has prevented many students, particularly upperclassmen, from taking their driver’s test. Quinn Joy, ‘21, missed out on what she considers “a big step in turning 17,” and Kern-Kensler noted his frustration at losing “the freedom [being able to drive] would bring.”

In spite of all the losses, many students still looked out for others around them. Joy was saddened by her lost softball season but recalled that “[her] initial reaction was not even to think about [herself], it was to think about the seniors,” as well as the freshmen whose high school debuts will have to wait until next year.

With a viral, contested plea for graduation directed towards Governor Murphy circulating social media, and Murphy’s allowance of graduation ceremonies to take place beginning July 6, Joy is not the only one who sympathized with the Class of 2020. The seniors have lost the remainder of their final year of high school, with some also losing their first semester of college. Margot Levy, ‘20, was dismayed by the loss of graduation and senior activities due to COVID-19, but tried “not to take anything for granted” as she watched others around her fare much worse, losing jobs and lives. Despite complaints of loneliness, isolation and the current divisiveness of our country, there remains a sense of unity among students at CHS.

All in all, many students agree that while their favorite hobbies were robbed of them, this was not without cause. Joy and Levy were both able to see the larger picture, and even look on the bright side. In the absence of face-to-face communication and a decrease in schoolwork, more students have had the chance to pursue what they truly care about on their own time. Kern-Kensler views quarantine as a bittersweet experience, acknowledging the “monotony and lack of social interaction” in tandem with “the opportunity to focus” on his personal interests.

This surge in activism may not be directly linked to quarantine, but the increased time for introspection may have contributed.

Many local students have taken advantage of this time to pursue creative interests, a handful of which have even blossomed into small businesses. Others have become more politically active through social media, spreading activist sentiments. In some cases, students have combined these aspects by pairing their hobby and philanthropy. Gracie Umiker, ‘21, has used her time in quarantine to expand her shop on Etsy, an online craft shop, SheBeads, in which she sells handmade jewelry and donates 20% of proceeds to the women’s rights organization EqualityNow. In lieu of the current protests, hundreds of other students have urged donations to organizations that support the Black Lives Matter movement. This surge in activism may not be directly linked to quarantine, but the increased time for introspection may have contributed.

Needless to say, many students just wish that things could return to normal. It is easy to harp on this idea, but hard to face the harsh reality of the situation—which many students have done with gusto. It’s important to remember that students were still able to connect online with one another through challenging times, with many channeling their energy into new interests they can do independently.

Designer: J. Griffith


The Columbian staffCo-Editors-in-Chief: Martina Zacker ’20 and Nicholas Shires ’20. DesignEditors: Dana Hugel ’20 and Matt McBride ’21. Photo Editor: Arielle Loubier ’21. Art Editor: Avery Soupios ’20. News Editor: Jon Cutler ’20. Arts & Entertainment Editor: Emily Wilner ’20. In-Depth Co-Editors: Noori Zubieta ’20 and Ruari McEwan ’20. Opinions Co-Editors: Jordan Young ’20 and Ari Mehlman ’20. Sports Co-Editors: Sydney Rednik ’20 and Zoe Slavin ’20. Designers: Derek Gutierrez ’20, Jack Griffith ’22, Ethan Walden ’20, Isaac Weber ’21, Charlie Hummel ’21, Sydney Mannion ’22. Advisers for The Columbian are Joshua Enyeart (English Dept.) and Cindy Malhotra (Fine Arts).

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