by Sarah Van Buskirk
photography by Nathan Driscoll
I was a senior at Vista Murrieta High School, three months before graduation when the COVID-19 lockdown started. My school did what most high schools in America did, use the resources of Zoom online learning. I finished up my high school experience through a screen. Yes, I had a virtual graduation and, yes, I missed out on many potentially fun senior activities. But if I am going to be honest, it was not the end of the world for me.
I grew up in Murrieta, a safe place to live with little crime and good schools. It is a great place to start a family. Though I am very grateful to have spent my adolescent years in such a calm place, I itched to get out. The opportunities for me in Murrieta were scarce. It was not a place where my adult self could flourish. The people, the lack of things to do, and its distance from everything else drove me out.
There is another reason my hometown felt restricted. In April 2019, my dad passed from stage four colon cancer. Not only was he my dad, but he was my right arm and best friend. The reason I am doing what I am doing now is all because of him. Sport journalism is the career path I want to take. My dad taught me about sports. He was on the sideline of every soccer game I ever played. He took me to Los Angeles Kings games for my birthday. And Sundays were a special day for us to go get a maple doughnut and watch the Oakland Raiders play.
The loss of my dad made my hometown feel gray. My household was a lot quieter—too quiet. But the voice in my head took was at full volume. It was not the same anymore, and neither was I. Though depression felt like a big part of my life, I knew that I could not give up, especially for my dad. Losing him made my ambition to get out of Murrieta even stronger. I needed to close this dark chapter in my life.
Luckily for me, I had just graduated from high school, and going to college was in my plan. I saw college as an opportunity for me to leave and begin a new life chapter. The University of La Verne sparked my interest prior to even opening the school’s application and inputting my test scores and GPA. I played soccer for about 10 years of my life. It was my life. Being a center mid-field took up more of my time than anything else. Playing club soccer and then transitioning into high school soccer, I earned the opportunity to go to a soccer camp at ULV. Showing off my skills to potential future coaches gave me the chance to play in college.
That did not happen though. The fun and family-like community that I gained from playing soccer just was not there anymore. With my dad’s passing, I could not stand the politics and teammates who surrounded me in high school—another thing the “Murrieta Curse” had ruined for me. My junior year of high school, I decided to close that chapter in my life, which was the end of an era. Soccer taught me so much, and I will cherish every 90 minutes I got to be on that field.
Even though soccer was out the window for me, the University of La Verne was not. After touring the campus and seeing the career opportunities, I felt really drawn to the place. It was nothing like Murrieta, but it was everything that I dreamt of. So, I applied as a journalism major and asked to live on campus. Living on campus was all I needed—an outlet for me to move out. The day I got accepted was emotional. I held, for a few moments, the bright orange folder with the word “Yes” on it. Then I ripped it open, and at the top of the page it said, “Congratulations.” That’s all I needed to see because I knew that meant I was in—in for a long ride, actually. A surreal feeling washed over me that what I had dreamt about was all coming true. Nerves shot through every part of my body with excitement and a tad bit of anxiety. There was nothing that I wanted more; however, then reality hit, and it was time for me to buckle up.
During this time, the pandemic was a daily front-page headline. It was not getting any better. One day, toward the start of fall 2020, all my excitement to move out and start my adult life was gone in an instant. Like a shooting star, you think you see it, and then it is gone. The University of La Verne instructed all that classes would be conducted via remote learning.
If you have not put the pieces together by now, basically, I was not allowed to move in and live on campus. Thus, staying in my hometown was my option. As it turned out, I did not come to campus the entire fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters. I camped out in my Murrieta bedroom, which seemed more like a classroom. I was angry and upset. I would watch on social media some of my high school acquaintances go and live their dream at college because some states allowed on-campus living during this COVID time. I longed for their freedom.
Like all, I had little knowledge of the future COVID situation, so I tried to remain positive. I told myself that it would only be for one semester, but I was wrong. Online learning began to feel a little too normal, but the world beyond our screen names was a world that was still struggling. With COVID cases still on the rise, we remained online for spring. I did not feel as devastated and crushed as the previous semester though. I was more disappointed than anything.
I would finish out my spring 2021 semester the same way I did in fall, which was in my bed, in my room and in my hometown. The everyday routine of waking up, opening my computer, and listening to my professors’ lectures was like clockwork. It seemed too easy. The inferior education that I was getting from online learning made it seem like school was not a priority and more like a chore. The little engagement I had with school work allowed more free time for me. This was a time where many people had a lot of free time, and they used that free time to better themselves. However, for me, it was where I lost myself.
I fell into the wrong group of people. I let them walk all over me while I continued to stick up for them because I thought that is what friends do. The things we were doing, and places we were going were damaging to me mentally and physically. But to them, it was “fun,” so I went along with it, for a little too long. But I knew my true worth and had goals for the future. If I were to stay in my hometown surrounding myself with these people, I would not be able to reach my goals. I would fall deeper and deeper into the grave I was digging for myself. I was looking for a way out, far away from these people. My wish would soon come true, and I would begin to feel alive again.
In the midst of summer, I knew that an email for the status of the fall 2021 semester was near. I tried not to think about it because I thought I was going to jinx it. Then it came. To me, it was like the golden ticket from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: an email explaining that ULV was delighted to be able to announce that classes would be held in person and on campus. In addition to that, students were invited to reside in the three campus resident halls.
The one thing I had been dreaming of was finally here. Of course, the first thing I did was to go shopping for my dorm. It always seemed like the coolest part of living on campus was to personalize your dorm. I put pictures on the walls, decorative pillows on my bed, and little house plants on my desk. I got to make my dorm feel like me, and the person I would soon become.
I created a countdown of days to when I would move into my Citrus Hall room. I was ready to say good-bye to my hometown. Aug. 16, 2021, was the day I moved all of my belongings 50 miles away. I was just filled with excitement. I began to think back to when I was stuck in a place where I did not belong. All those nights I spent upset about still living in my hometown were not even on my mind anymore. The only care in the world I had was just being physically at the University.
The COVID-19 pandemic taught me patience. I felt 10 times more excited and grateful to be living on campus than I would have initially. The year spent at home while online taught me that good things take time. Patience now plays a big part in many aspects of my life. My present-day tranquility and reduced life stress roots from the big bad COVID lockdown. Though COVID-19 has caused much destruction in our world, I took a huge takeaway from it. Realizing that I could not control what was going on in the world brought me a lot of peace.
I can definitely say that even when times are rough, and it seems like it will never get better, it will. Riding it out, keeping your head up, and not worrying about things you have no power over are ways to remind yourself that better things are ahead. Good things just take time for those who have the strength to wait for them. I believe nothing comes easily, especially nothing good. Once your eagerness has vanished from your mind, patience will infiltrate. You will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel–the silver lining. ■