My COVID Dreams: The Pandemic’s Effects on Maddox Wade’s Freshman Year


Dennis Rackett

Fractured Freshman Year: Like all of her first-year colleagues, Maddox Wade has had to navigate the cruel turns and unexpected isolation of a pandemic-impacted freshman year.

The chaos of the past few months has upended society, global economies, and what is seen as “normal” in any public school system. Students have been thrown behind screens in the name of safety and “slowing the spread” of the global pandemic that rages around them.

Like so many of her peers, North Atlanta freshman Maddox Wade senses she’s missing out on so much of her first year of high school: a pivotal moment in the growth and development of a teenager. Instead, she’s limited to the confines of a virtual world where students feel left to fend for themselves. There’s limited social interaction, and what little there is through Zoom or some form of social media. Teenagers are notoriously social, and so this handling of the pandemic is only exacerbating the oft-criticized dependence on social media. Unfortunately, social media is now one of the only ways teenagers can stay connected to their peers without drawing ire for not following societally-enforced COVID guidelines.

Without teachers and peers alongside them, many students see a lack of motivation, and Wade said she counts herself in this category. For her, school feels increasingly like a self-taught exercise, an independent existence where there is no one around her to reinforce her motivation. This lack of social interaction has proven draining to work ethic and mood. “It’s been hardest staying focused and staying motivated, personally. I’m not around people and I can’t see my friends that I normally see at school, which is hard,” she said.

Students seek to cope with this new environment in a myriad of ways, and are just beginning to adjust to the new “normal” that is virtual school and a vastly more independent way of life. For many, newfound independence brings an interesting facet to their lives, as they are far more self-reliant in their learning and social lives. This can bring challenges of motivation and isolation, but some find a blessing in the virtual world they’ve been forced to live in: “I’d say I definitely enjoy having more freedom to go throughout my day without having to go from class to class,” Wade said. “I feel like I can do more of what I want and that I’m not tied down by school all the time.”

However, this independence students see can come at a cost to their blossoming social lives, something that seems especially important during high school years. Students struggle to make new friends, as the emphasis on social distancing and avoiding strangers to prevent COVID spread has put a damper on those plans. Additionally, there is no common gathering ground of in-person school for these students, and so they often fail to seek out and make new friends. Because teens are creatures of habit, they often stick with the friends they know, and there’s little other way for them to meet new people. For those new, the isolation feels even harder: they feel detached from social events and even more isolated with the pandemic. The pandemic has revealed to Wade how difficult it can be to broaden social horizons. “I’ve found that I stay pretty close to the people I was friends with before the pandemic,” she said. “And I can tell that it’s hard to meet new people that have transferred to North Atlanta.”

Even though students have found ways to draw positives from the experience of virtual learning, many feel that they are missing out on the quintessential high school experience constantly promised to them by former students and the mass media. With no physical school to attend, students miss gathering with their peers and socializing. Thus, the whole notion of “the best years of your life” seems lost on students. This remains especially true for freshmen, who are just beginning high school and are entering a pivotal point in their lives. “As it’s my freshman year, I’ve missed a lot of things like going to football games and parties and the whole freshman experience,” Wade said. “I’ve also missed hanging out with people in class that I enjoy being around but don’t really spend time with outside of school, for whatever reason.”

         Most, if not all students long for a return to pre-COVID times, as their lives have been upended by something that no one could have possibly predicted. Many miss the simplicity of times before the pandemic, and others miss branching out and exploring, including Wade. “I want to be able to travel again,” she said. “My family travels a lot and we can’t stand being cooped in and at home all the time. I want to go places and experience new things.”

         While the pandemic may eventually come to an end, its effects will be felt for years to come, as everyone continues to adjust to society’s changes. Students, especially, will miss those important years of high school that were taken away from them. Maybe one day an entire generation of teenagers will be able to look back on these times with wry smiles, and with an enduring appreciation for the many life lessons a pandemic-impacted world offered. Until then, pandemic dreams are for a return what was left behind in March 2020.