By Martha Lewand

In my first journal assignment for Mr. Keating’s Freedom-Honors class, I defined what freedom means to me and how I exercise that freedom on a day to day basis. I wrote:

“For me, freedom means having the ability to make choices. This feeling of independence and self-reliance intensifies when restrictions are lifted or when additional privileges are awarded. However, it is vital not to neglect the responsibilities that are attached to the privileges our freedom permits. The freedom to make decisions is ultimately bounded by responsibility.”

Nine months later, despite how much my life and the world has changed, I still agree with my definition. Further along in the journal, I spoke about how I did not have as much freedom a normal teenager should possess due to my hectic and restrictive academic and athletic schedules. However, considering how I have been trapped in my home for the past 2 months due to a deadly global pandemic, I realize I would sacrifice almost anything to return to the amount of freedom I once held. 

Now that my senior year is completed, I can finally reflect on the past four years of my life with a more cultivated perspective. To be quite frank, my high school experience was definitely not like the movies. Transitioning from an average public middle school in a middle-class town, to the rigorous and demanding academics, along with a horrendous commute, of Pingry was difficult for me. I had and still have issues with the school and how they handle certain aspects. The exhausting demands of school and club swimming, among other things, took a heavy toll on my mental health and sleep schedule. I do not even know where to begin regarding the adversities of the college process either; taking the ACT six times in order to receive a manageable score was not the most enjoyable process. 

My high school experience was not perfect, to say the least. Nonetheless, I learned a great deal from each moment of hardship, which I truly believe will greatly benefit me for the rest of my life. For example, there is no doubt I will be extremely prepared for college; if anything, I am probably over-prepared for the amount of studying and work I will have to complete over the next four years, which I am extremely grateful for. In addition, I was deferred from what I thought was my dream school back in the winter, which was a blessing in disguise. A week after my deferral, I was unexpectedly accepted into what would turn out to be my true dream school—the University of Michigan. Although cliché, I now understand everything happens for a reason. 

However, it would be naive of me not to credit some of the amazing experiences during my high school career. I made some of my best friends and learned loads about the world during my time at Pingry. I have watched my friends, including myself, grow tremendously as strong individuals, prepared to conquer the world. I feel blessed to have created relationships with some superb teachers. I discovered my passion for journalism among other academic subjects. Last summer was easily the best summer of my life; I made so many friends and connections which will last a lifetime, through a journalism conference and summer program. I had the opportunity to be a captain of the almost 30 diligent and amazing girls of the Pingry Swim Team, whom I adore. I cannot discount the Snowball dances and prom either; those were undoubtedly a blast. 

My high school experience was not exactly as glamorous as Ferris Bueller’s per say, but I am grateful for such life-changing moments and my growth as an individual. Obviously, I have had what seems to be an infinite amount of time to ponder about my future due to the fact that I have not left my house in a couple of months. The future is very uncertain at this point. In addition to blatantly freaking out over the uncertainty of in-person instruction at my university this fall and whether I will have the glamorous college experience I have always dreamt of, I have been able to not only reflect on my past but also reconsider my plans for the future. I am an organized individual who likes having a schedule or plan, but I also like change. COVID-19 has shown me that anything can happen and change within the blink of an eye. So, I must be prepared for adjustments in the future and be comfortable with them.

I have a plan for college and post-grad, but I have begun to consider different realities. In addition to majoring in International Studies, I might also major or minor in Criminal Justice, Arabic, Marketing, Statistics, etc. Maybe I will not be a journalist for my whole life. I might decide to take the Foreign Service Exam and see where that leads me, or even join the FBI. 

In order to pursue such experiences and careers, I must exercise my personal freedom more than I ever have. Due to COVID-19, I have realized that I cannot take my freedom for granted. I must take advantage of every opportunity I want to take in the future, even if “the timing isn’t right” or “I’m too busy.” No more excuses to hold off my life aspirations and potential discoveries. Like Chris McCandless from Into the Wild, I need to live, not just exist. 

Even though COVID-19 seized the only period of time in high school to relax with my friends and enjoy the events I have anticipated for a lifetime (i.e. senior prom, senior boat ride, a journalism internship for my ISP, high school graduation, and the last summer before I leave for college), I guess this is my cathartic way of thanking COVID-19. I, along with the rest of the world, have learned at least one significant lesson, positive or negative, from this worldwide tragedy. Although there is uncertainty in what the future holds, I am content with my reflection of the past four years and what the rest of my life will bring, while making sure to utilize and remind myself of the significance of my personal freedom along the way.