Most would agree that the last year of high school should be somewhat monumentous. It’s a time punctuated with big events and plenty of “lasts,” from homecoming to prom. With these activities swept away as casualties of the pandemic, Sara Wheeler, SJND ‘21 and class salutatorian, decided it would be a good idea to allow the small moments, as opposed to the large gatherings, define how she remembered her last year of high school.
“It's touching on moments that I feel like people don't remember off the top of their head,” she said, referring to the speech she’ll deliver at graduation. “When you think of high school, you probably think of prom, spirit week, or graduation. But it's those little moments, like our English teacher would let us stay after school to practice our Shakespeare plays, or how when we forgot our homework, our teacher would say, ‘okay, you have three minutes to run to the other side of campus and get it from your locker and back, or I'll mark you late.’ Those small moments that you probably don't remember, but it would be a shame to forget those.”
Echoing the sentiments of fellow classmates, Sara recalled the feeling of relief upon learning that in-person classes were stopping temporarily due to COVID-19. The supposed pause came in the middle of the second semester of junior year, and she was feeling the need for a break from academics and time to reset.
As the situation snowballed, however, she knew that in order to set herself up for success, she’d need to shift her mindset.
“It became more something like ‘oh, this is the new normal,’” Sara said. “I have to start adjusting and not just be on vacation mode 27/4. I think it was changing how I thought about our situation and how that impacted my personal goals, my relationships with others, and my work ethic.”
With nowhere to be after online classes ended, Sara found time to explore activities and hobbies she previously brushed aside, unable to fit them into a schedule that woke her up at 6:30 a.m. and kept her out until 5 p.m or later.
Painting by Sara Wheeler
“I have been able to do a lot more art,” she said. “I've also just had more time for things like meditation and mindfulness where I'm okay being alone or not having to do a lot, not always having to be so active.”
Sara received a camera for her 15th birthday, but due to school and other extracurricular activities never took up the hobby. The pandemic was the perfect excuse to dust it off and also pick up painting. She uses tempera paint (easy cleanup) but will sometimes choose acrylics, too.
“I was able to delve more into photography and editing with Photoshop,” she shared. “When the pandemic started last year, [painting] was what I was doing the most of. It's just something I never really had the time to sit down and do.”
This fall, Sara will be attending Santa Clara University, majoring in web design and engineering. Looking back on her four years at SJND, there are a plethora of memories and moments that she’ll hold on to. A particular one stands out from her first year. The current vice president of the Associated Student Body was then serving on the Campus Life Team for her class, and Spirit Week wasn’t going as planned.
Artwork by Sara Wheeler
“We didn't quite understand how to hang a 30-foot poster on the gym wall,” she remembered. “We decided to cut it and hang it in sections, which was the worst idea, because that was our whole poster, ruined. I couldn't reach the top and we couldn't have a ladder on the top of the bleachers. I remember getting on my friend's shoulders to try to paste it up and having everyone stand behind me and make sure I didn't fall over. That was one of the highlights of our freshman year spirit week, that we lost by probably 100 or 200 points. It was not a good result, but it was a pretty entertaining moment.”
With the countless memories and moments to remember with classmates, teachers, and activities, the biggest takeaway for Sara is the foundation that SJND has provided.
“I think I will remember it as that building block for the rest of my life,” she said. “While you're going through school, they're very formative years. All the experiences, all the friends you make, all the things you learn are very impactful for the rest of your life."