The thing that caught my eye and ear at Bishop Maginn High School when I first went there was the fact that so many of the students love being there. They see the school as safe and supportive, and many of the students find being there much easier than the rest of their lives.
Bishop Maginn is an inner-city Catholic School, there are lots of refugee kids and poor kids and hungry kids there. The school works hard to make it a learning haven.
Gabe Silverstein is one of Bishop Maginn’s stars, academically and in terms of leadership.
Gabe is planning on a career in science. He was intensely recruited by several of the best science schools in the country on full scholarships. He was just named Valedictorian of the 2020 Graduating Class.
He is one of the students in my writing workshop, we are working on a series called “Interrupted Lives,” a chance for student voices to be heard in all of the din over the virus.
They are among the most dramatic and sadly affected by the coronavirus. They will lose most of one of the most important years in their lives – the high school graduation year.
I asked Gabe and the other students in the class to write about loss and isolation when school becomes virtual.
All of them say they hope it is not the future, they miss their school, their friends, their teachers.
This excerpt is from Chapter Three, I asked the students to describe a single day in their new isolation, from start to finish.
It is so much better to hear it in their own words than to describe it.
By Gabe Silverstein, Bishop Maginn, Class of 2020.
Each day under the stay at home order seems to feel longer and more isolated than the day before it. Some days, I wake up early in the morning, seeking to accomplish a new task for the day.
One time, I used one of these days to fix my old laptop. On others, I worked to complete assignments for my online classes.
These days, while they do occur, make up a much smaller percentage of my life than I would like to admit.
Typically, I wake up with little to no urgency, sometimes early in the morning, sometimes even late in the afternoon. My internal alarm seems to have become more dysfunctional than ever.
Commonly, I find myself awake for unknown reasons early in the morning. Just as often, I don’t even wake up for the first time until two or three o’clock in the afternoon.
Often, I end up going back to sleep several times if there isn’t anything I have to be awake for. It’s almost as if I use sleep as a way to shorten the days. I sometimes feel as if I’ll feel less bored and isolated if I’m awake to experience these feelings as little as possible.
These days seem to sit at the polar opposite of the spectrum from my more productive ones. I find myself only getting out of bed for essential tasks, like taking a shower or cooking myself a meal.
Instead of trying to accomplish something, I end up mindlessly consuming media on YouTube or playing video games until they become too repetitive for me to continue.
Ironically, it is on these days when I try to curb my feelings of isolation and boredom that they often feel the most prevalent.
In trying to combat social isolation, I end up isolating myself more. I miss chances to catch up with friends and family over the phone as I try to distract myself from wanting to do exactly that.
While I could focus more on the productive, well-structured days, I feel as if doing so would paint a false picture of what my life has really been like on lockdown.
The isolation and boredom of these long days occasionally have me wishing for the stay- at -home orders to end abruptly, even though I know all too well the level of death and destruction that doing so could cause.
Many days, I have to struggle with this concept in my mind. Part of me wishes everything could just go back to normal, and we could just let the virus run its course.
At the same time, the other, more reasonable half of my mind can’t help but feel extremely anxious about the uncertainty of opening up our nation to an assault by a still much unknown and misunderstood enemy in the form of this virus.
To be quite honest, more often than once during this lockdown, I have felt overwhelmed by these negative feelings. I find myself having to come up with new distractions to force myself to focus on them less.
One week, I spent a certain amount of time each day learning how to cook some of my favorite foods.
A different week, I taught myself about the different internal components of computers in order to eventually fix one of mine. After using the knowledge I had absorbed, I managed to isolate and fix an issue with the hard drive, restoring the computer’s functionality.
Some of the best times during lockdown come later in the day when I tend to reserve time for catching up with friends.
Sometimes, we play cooperative video games together, chatting and joking around between matches. This always helps to lighten the mood. By having a good laugh and playing together, we can help to alleviate some of the anxiety and sadness we feel due to the virus.
Other times, we just sit and talk, reminiscing about the good times of high school and discussing future plans.
As much as I love these conversations, though, it only becomes more and more difficult to discuss a high school career that was cut short and a future that remains highly uncertain the longer that this lockdown persists.
I can only talk about high school so much without missing it more and more. The more you reminisce on the best moments from all four years, the more your mind drifts to focus on the missed opportunities to create equally, if not more memorable ones that would’ve come about in the waning months of my senior year.
I can only talk about my future so much without being more and more anxious about how the virus will impact it.
I worry constantly about whether or not my college education will begin with moving into a dorm and going to my first in-person classes as I thought it would, or if it will be a first-semester filled with doing online coursework from home and updates on when the campus will open.
In all honesty, a typical day of self-isolation has its highs and lows. While it does provide opportunities for productivity, learning new skills, acquiring new knowledge, and conversing with friends with little interruption, the feelings of boredom, loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty are nearly inescapable.
Through all of this, one question remains: how much longer of this are we really in for?
I am working with the school officials to support Bishop Maginn’s new graduation plans, scheduled for sometime this summer. I’ve ordered key chains with an inspiration quote from David Thoreau, lapel pins, baby candy jars, engraved ballpoint pens, and baseball hats with the inscription “Bishop Maginn High School, Graduation 2020.”
I’m looking around for bandannas.
The seniors may have lost their graduation, but I want them to have a great graduation gift bag if nothing else. If you want to help, you can contribute via Paypal, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by check, Jon Katz, Refugee Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.
Today or tomorrow, we’ll put up a modest Bishop Maginn Amazon Wish List so they can purchase some of the stickers and signage required to open the school safely, hopefully in September. Stay tuned. It’s a small list, not expensive.