Courtesy of Margot Smethurst
The arrival of 2020 brought excitement into the world as we prepared to enter a new decade. Athletes waited in anticipation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which only occurs every four years. Meanwhile, a presidential year election loomed in the distance. There were high hopes for this aesthetically-pleasing year.
However, the year took an unexpected turn.
Students were forced to leave their schools and many people were forced to leave their jobs, care for elderly or oversee children in school virtually at home as well as deal with the emotional burden of a worldwide pandemic due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that took the world by surprise. Our picturesque view of the year 2020 shattered before our eyes, changing everything from March 2020 on starting with shelter-in-place, social distancing, and quarantine policies, cancellation of most social, sports and travel events.
Most devastating of all is the loss of life, a catastrophe that has caused more casualties than today’s teenagers have known of except in history books. At this writing, 2.6 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19, with more than 400,000 deaths in the United States including 35,000 in California.
People have been forced to change and adapt to the digital environment, restructure their lives, and become patient with the changing world. They have stayed determined, encouraging one another to keep going in these tumultuous times.
Northgate students made time to reflect on last year’s experiences and on their hopes for the future, sharing their understanding, accomplishments and goals.
“I set a lot of goals each year. My goal for 2020 was to get in shape and just be healthier overall,” sophomore Emma Majerczak said. She continued by explaining how if not for the pandemic, she may not have achieved that goal.
“Around quarantine I made the switch and joined the cross country team. After that I realized I had achieved my goal and gotten into the best shape of my life,” she said. “So, it was really nice to actually see that goal come true.”
Noah Bettelheim is currently a freshman in orchestra. “The pandemic definitely made me isolated, but it also brought good things. It gave me a lot more time to practice my music, which I really enjoy,” he said.
Margot Smethurst explained her ambitious nature that leads her to write down goals often. “One of my main goals for 2020 was to read more. I did accomplish that goal and read over 35 books this past year,” she said, adding that some of her favorites included The Institute by Steven King and Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi.
Smethurst also looked optimistically at the stay at home order. “I think COVID actually helped [me accomplish my goal] because I had a lot more free time,” she said.
Junior Lillian Aguilera, better known as Lil, explained how COVID also helped her achieve her goal. “I set a goal to work on self-improvement, more specifically to try and be more confident. I actually think COVID helped with my goal because when I spent more time alone, I realized I stopped comparing myself to others around me,” Aguilera said.
Fethullah Unal reflected on the difficulties of the past year. His junior year was turbulent, like many other students. “I wanted to be more productive during the year but then the Pandemic hit, and I couldn’t get anything done. Dealing with a system you never used before and being an expert at it is not easy at all. I ended up going to summer school because of COVID-19,” Unal explained.
Freshman Romtin Pourzand also decided to focus on academics. “When COVID had first started, school became a lot easier because I had more time to do it. I was somewhat wrong to think it would be like that in high school,” he said. “Once high school started, I studied harder and took more time while doing homework.”
As we enter the new year, students look into their future. The University of Scranton in Philadelphia found that 60 percent of people set goals during the New Year. Many Northgate students are a part of this percentage and shared their plans.
“My goal for 2021 is to learn to play the guitar,” Bettelheim said. “I can already pick some stuff out from knowing music, but otherwise, I am starting fresh.” He explained his passion for music and understanding how to play more instruments, including the guitar. “It sounds cool and I like music,” he said.
Majerczak has also set high standards for 2021. “[In English class,] we had to write down one word that describes our resolution and mine is ‘dedication’. I wanted to follow through with the goals that I set for myself and celebrate those little goals that I met. This year is really about following through on realistic goals and working for them,” she said.
Pourzand described how he is continuing to work on academics in the upcoming year. “I haven’t set too many goals but one of the goals I did set was about improving my grades even more,” he said. “Last semester I had pretty much all A’s except for English. So, my main goal for this year is to improve in English and Spanish.”
He also added that if he “had to give advice it would be to keep your head up and always try to reach your goal.”
Smethurst is ready to look ahead. “My 2021 resolutions are to cook more and exercise five times a week,” she said. “I know that I like to work out – it makes me feel so energized and productive! So, I really want to incorporate that into my schedule regularly.”
She also gave good advice to maintain motivation during these trying times. “It doesn’t have to be a life-changing goal. Just checking off the little things can lead to accomplishing a bigger goal,” she added.
Some students didn’t set specific goals, but are still hopeful for the upcoming year. Freshman Laila Chaudhary offered wise advice to those trying to achieve their goals. “I do not have any written resolutions for 2021, but if I did I would take my time to achieve them and try not to rush myself,” she said.
Chaudhary followed up by explaining the importance of enjoying life: “Find one thing or activity that brings you joy and try to incorporate it into your life. This could be as simple as listening to your favorite songs.”
Studies have actually found that enjoyment directly relates to improved performance. Psychology Today found that, “When athletes are asked to reflect on a performance where they did achieve the illusive ‘zone’, they commonly report a high level of enjoyment and total absorption in the task at hand.”
This is due to the endorphins that are released when people are happy. These endorphins decrease stress levels and increase pain tolerance. Evidently, our psychological health is directly related to our physical health.
Senior Fethullah Unal agreed with Chaudhary. “I did not set goals because experts say that we will not be going back to our normal lives until 2022 the earliest,” Unal said. “Plus, I’m sick of setting goals every 365 days because what is the point of setting goals on a new year? It’s not a special time, it’s just a new year like a new day: going from Tuesday to Wednesday.”
Aguilera is another student who has decided to refrain from making goals this year. “Although last year my goal worked out, most of the time I set some academic goal that I never achieve. So, this year I plan on just “going with the flow,” she said.
“My advice to other students would be to just not lose sight of yourself just to achieve this goal. Oftentimes we get too focused on pleasing ourselves or others that we forget who we are,” she added.
Setting goals is easy, but following through with them is much harder. Majerczak said she has experienced this first hand when setting her expectations too high. That’s why this year, she is taking a different approach: “My goal right now is completing a half-marathon in December. I have a long way to go… Running is something I really enjoy so I want to have a medal of my own, you know?”
Majerczak takes deliberate steps to continue to work towards that goal. “I say this a lot to myself when I’m running: ‘Your body will thank you later.’ That can be related to your mind if you want to study or if you want to work out and tone certain muscles. Basically, you’re going to thank yourself later for what you are doing now” she said.
Bettelheim also offers some insight to the New Year. “I love the quote, ‘Do or do not. There is no try.’ It is so applicable to everything.” Star Wars fans will recognize these words from Yoda, which basically means that rather than just trying to do something, you will do it regardless.
2020 was the year of change. While 2021 isn’t visibly any different, it allows us to have a fresh start. Every new breath people take invites the opportunity for change.
Nobody can promise that 2021 will be easier. We can, however, promise to make ourselves better.