by Lindsey Pacela
photography by Drake Ingram
When COVID hit, we were told that the pandemic would last only two weeks. At first, that wasn’t a problem. It was basically a bonus time spring break, but then reality hit. March 2020, I was a senior at Ayala High School in Chino Hills. My principal joined others across the nation sending a recorded phone message. I was wary and anxious, then disappointed when I heard her optimistic words, “We are expected to be back learning shortly, but we are not sure, and will keep everyone updated as new information comes forth.”
I was preparing to graduate and looking forward to walking across the stage. I had already bought my prom dress and was eagerly waiting for it to come in the mail; it would come but after the prom was canceled, and I begrudgingly returned it. I thought it was my only chance to wear a dress like this. It was an over-the-top, “princessy” dress, purple, puffy and silky—straight from a Disney movie. And, in addition, I was completing the yearbook as co-editor in chief—what I thought would be my personal legacy at my high school. I was spending much of my time working side-by-side with my staff. We were nearing crunch time to turn it into Herff Jones Publishing when the principal’s message came.
Those two weeks of quarantine began to stretch into four. I was on a roller coaster ride with no way out. My COVID experience did not have a silver lining, but it did teach me how to adapt and how to learn quickly in an ever-evolving world. Students still needed to be educated, so Ayala started teaching online, using programs such as Zoom, GoogleMeets, and Cisco WebEx. Some of my teachers were experts with the programs; others were a little slow to adapt. My high school soon moved everything to Zoom calls, where most of my teachers began to teach online. Due dates and locations were no longer in a basket on the teacher’s desk by the first 10 minutes of class but were to be uploaded as a PDF or GoogleDoc and done by 11:59 p.m. that day. Classroom lectures became a distant memory. I was teaching myself in a strange homeschool-like situation.
Before long, it was finals time. For my class of 2020, we graduated online and semi-in-person. Our in-person graduation included a drive-up line to the outdoor library stage, where we got out of the car, walked across, shook our principal’s hand while dressed in uniform emblemed masks, got back in our cars, and it was all over. My lingering thought was, “Should I have just shook the principal’s hand?” Just as Ayala did, almost every high school in the nation later displayed its graduates’ names across a TV screen as part of a broadcast graduation. My immediate family gathered together to watch the TV in my home; the rest of my family watched eagerly on Zoom. It was nearly three hours long, and my last name was near the end. But I watched the entire thing, eager to find some kind of closure. I did not find it there, and I’m not sure whether I ever will. I was there, but not really present. The joy of my once looked-forward to life transition event was missing.
COVID isolation became a dark space in time, but in that darkness some light started to shine as technology advanced in order to keep society working. Social media really took off, especially Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where news could be more easily spread, and socializing was still possible. Keeping up with friends and family was possible. I began to meet with friends over Zoom or Facetime, more than ever before. Disney+ came out with a GroupWatch feature that allowed friends and family to watch the same show at the same time. This is where I “went” on my first date with my long-term partner. We watched “Hamilton” together and used the chat feature to comment as if we were sitting next to each other in a theater. We tried to act as if all of this technology between us was merely an illusion that we were ignoring, so that we could still hold on to some normalcy in such a strange time.
My family throughout California began to utilize Zoom about six months into the pandemic. We would catch up on our lives and play silly games like Uno and 20 Questions. The games were never the real reason for the video calls; they were always just an excuse to get to see each other again and to have something to look forward to at week’s end. Although the games were a strange way to bond, I think they brought us together more than we had been pre-pandemic. Those family meetings meant the world to me.
Video meetings became an essential tool in the world for medical doctor and therapist appointments. During my sophomore year, I experienced a minor allergic reaction and made a family doctor video appointment. Within 30 minutes, I had been diagnosed and prescribed an antibiotic. It was ready for me at my local CVS merely a half hour after that. During a particularly dark point of my pandemic experience, I heard about the University of La Verne’s CAPS program, so I tried my first therapy appointment over a video call. It was odd to feel so disconnected, yet empathized and heard at the same time. It wouldn’t be until multiple appointments later that the video therapy calls began to feel normal.
Working from home became a major part of the changes COVID-19 brought. I work at the University’s Campus Center as an event scheduler. After one of my family members was exposed to the virus, I asked my manager Veronica Ashcroft, director of events and scheduling, whether I could work remotely. That day, I realized my job was possible to fully do from the comfort of my own home. Many more days of remote work would follow. Thankfully, my mom did not develop the virus.
If I could work from home and still do my job well, what else could I do? The answer would lie in online business platforms. Etsy, eBay, Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace and other sites began to boom. During the worst of the pandemic, I sold knickknacks around my room for an easy profit on eBay and Poshmark. I was the opposite of those who became shoppers extraordinaire. I got into minimization after following The Minimalists on Instagram and even met them in person at a live show. I actually enjoyed minimizing my possessions to basic essentials. Perhaps being able to control my possessions gave me a sense of comfort and control when society seemed so out of balance.
It wasn’t just working and commerce that took to the internet, but learning as well. I grew up in a family who upheld the idea that in order to gain life skills, college is a must. However, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that any skill, any information, can be attained through the help of technology. Websites like Skill Share, and MasterClass took off during the pandemic because they provided access to some of the world’s greatest professionals and leading figures. From cooking with Gordon Ramsey, to writing with James Patterson, any skill could be learned in an intimate yet safe and distanced setting.
When the pandemic first started, I thought it would be over in two weeks. Little did I know my way of life would change so drastically. Much changed, mainly my bonding with technology, but it became a new tool that launched me into the future. Technology was a ball that was already rolling but picked up speed more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. I will never be the same, but let’s hope I am better for it. ■