As Luke Drake read aloud one of the four journals he had filled with daily reflections during the coronavirus pandemic, he looked up, a little bewildered.
“These are sad things! He laughed.
An entry on November 5 captured the unease that seemed to characterize much of his year: “My life has not been interesting at all. I don’t remember what happened on Thursday. Life is boring right now. I don’t feel like I’m alive. Just exist.
Such is the life of an 18-year-old who experiences his final semesters at Mayo High School through a computer screen, isolated from the friends, clubs and athletic teams that epitomize the high school experience.
“It’s like the worst time to be a high school student and have friends. I do not see anyone. And it feels like we’re all going to be leaving soon, “he wrote on March 29, 2020.
As Drake nears his graduation ceremony on Saturday, he’s reflected on the past 15 months and the hundreds of entries he’s recorded along the way. He flipped through page after page, stopping at the particularly significant ones he had marked with purple sticky notes.
“This book, and the previous book, and the previous one, have learned the ups, downs, desires, doubts, insecurities, joys and disappointments of my last five months,” he wrote on 10 August. “I wonder if anyone else will ever read them … At the very least, a little fun with this year-long roller coaster would be enough and I would be happy.
Although Drake had sporadically kept a journal before, he put pen to paper on March 17, 2020, with the intention of recording one passage for each day of the pandemic. At the time, Drake expected to keep a journal for a few weeks until the restrictions were lifted. He reflected on how the writings might enable future readers – perhaps his own children, he mused – to relive vicariously the turbulent first days of the pandemic.
But as the weeks turned into months, and eventually into a full year, the exercise became a process of personal reflection. Each night he sifted through feelings of sadness, loss, and glimpses of unexpected joy.
Distance learning was a drag for Drake. He said his mind was numb from the days spent in front of the computer, attending lectures with a sea of blank zoom squares. The ambitious to-do lists he had sketched out for himself seemed to disappear during those frustrating weeks. Every now and then his diary entries recounted these struggles.
“School is so exhausting,” he wrote on February 25. “Sitting in front of a screen for six hours really kills my motivation. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. That’s what it is.
He didn’t look forward to most lessons, but not because he found the subjects boring or the teachers disengaged. Drake just couldn’t stand logging into Zoom for what looked like another recorded conference.
The only exception was his humanities class, in which most students kept their cameras on and participated. It seemed almost normal to him as they sat discussing the passages of literature they had read that week. Sometimes the quotes from the books even stuck enough with Drake where he added them to the bottom of his entry for that day.
“It’s really nice to be able to talk to people. Every time they have their cameras on it reminds you that you were in a classroom after all, ”he said recently.
The track record of distance learning was visible in every school district in Minnesota. Mental health was a major concern for families and students over the past year, according to a survey of students in grades 6 to 12 conducted under a July 30 executive order signed by Governor Tim Walz. The challenge was the third most cited challenge by students, behind tracking their coursework and understanding the material.
“Ordinary, but perfectly beautiful”
After spending years anticipating his final year to end in the most disappointing way possible, Drake felt depressed. Like – in his own words – he always got “the short end of the stick.”
“I don’t know why, but today I felt really melancholy and I don’t want to grow up. Now I feel like I’m in the good old days. It’s a little scary to be here and not want to leave. Each day that passes is a day closer to my departure for college. And if there are still a lot of days left, it also seems like there are so few, ”Drake said on May 19, 2020.
But, after such solemn reflections, he would recognize the bright spots. Read memorable passages from books and analyze them with your English teacher. Finish the “New Girl” series. Take off his suspenders. Eating Jimmy John’s in the parking lot with his friends. And soon, attending Carleton College in the fall and exploring different subjects to eventually specialize.
As Drake mourned the loss of typical high school moments he would never know, he found a greater appreciation for things he already had, like his family and friends. Most of its entries are dedicated to these people – the ones who made its dark days merry.
On March 17, a year after starting recording his daily entries, Drake reflected on a day spent skiing with his friends.
“It was a super fun day. Best day I’ve had in a while that’s for sure, ”he wrote, recounting how he got to the Welch Village ski area with his friends, ran through slush and hugged. ate inside at Newt’s for one of the first times in months.
“It was almost normal,” he wrote. “One of those perfectly ordinary, yet perfectly beautiful moments that you hope will never end.”