Back in May, we ran a writing competition where we asked secondary school girls across Ireland to submit a piece on either:
- A lived experience they have overcome, and what they learned.
- A profile of a woman they admire.
- An opinion piece with a positive and empowering message.
Here at SHONA, we believe in the power of storytelling, of sharing our experiences to empower ourselves and those around us. Choosing a winner was so hard! So, we decided to share some of the entries over the next few months!
This piece was written by 17-year-old Holly, and she says “it’s basically is an essay about my experience with school closing abruptly last year and how I battled through growing up during lockdowns”.
Covid-19. It’s been taped across every shop door, bus stop, newsletter and headline since the beginning of 2020. Little did I know it was the beginning of a life I never imagined. Before the months of the virus, I was gearing up to do my Junior Cert. I was finishing a couple of my CBA assignments, discussing what I was going to wear for results night, whether or not I was going on the TY skiing trip and of course the occasional study session. I started school in September 2019 suited and booted for my exams and before I knew it, March came around. Friday the 13th to be exact. The unlucky number for a life-changing day.
I enjoyed Fridays in school. The start of the day was heavy then eased off with a double business at the end. I loved my business teacher and loved the subject even more and she promised to play Leo Varadkar’s speech. Then, we all heard it ‘Schools, colleges and childcare facilities will close from tomorrow.’ I could feel the excitement and happiness emanating from my classmates. I, however, was not so keen. The rest of the class was a hazy blur. There had been talks about closing everything down but I never thought the country would actually act on it. Initially, I didn’t take the situation seriously until my mum enlightened me that schools might not open until the following September.
Going home from school that day was a nightmare, it was as if the apocalypse broke out. There was a frenzy of chaos through the corridors. Earlier the principal made a memorable announcement that we were to clear out all our lockers. It’s so bizarre to think that was the last time I used my locker. I had to travel back into school three times to clear it out due to the number of textbooks, copies and random commodities I had scattered throughout it. I went home with a mind filled with uncertainty and unnecessary stress. ‘Would I have a Junior Cert?’, ‘will school open soon?’ and ‘Can I see my friends?’ were some of the countless questions that were wandering through my mind.
A week became a month. A month became three months. Three months came to the end of June, which marked the end of my 3rd year. The Junior Cert was cancelled and the leaving cert was all predicted grades. All my dedication and excitement to fully complete an exam year was for nothing. For me, those past months of online learning were a rollercoaster of repetition. I couldn’t balance my home life and school. Teachers were handing out work as if it was candy. I had no social life. The weekends felt like an hour-long tv break which is not even the duration of a full movie. I stayed up until 2 am and slept in until 1 in the afternoon. The only escape from the hectic and bitter world was sleep. Sleep helped me abscond from the harsh and daunting reality I was living in.
And before I knew it my birthday arrived. The famous ‘sweet sixteen’ known by Americans, the Mexican Quinceanera and the Jewish Bat Mitzvah are all notorious birthday celebrations for a young girl bordering womanhood. Growing up with dozens of movies framed around ‘coming of age events’, I believed it to be a rite of passage. I knew mine would be different given that I live in Ireland and I’m not starring in my own Indie movie but I never would have thought I couldn’t let my friends, my very own family into my home because of a life-threatening virus! That day I realised life would never be the same again and I was going to have to deal with it and attempt to move on or let it swallow me whole. During that important day, I said to myself that I wouldn’t let the world’s problems define my happiness and wellbeing.
Not many people can say they grew up during a global pandemic. The last one was under 100 years ago. Existing in a world of being weary of people near you, I thought would only occur in a zombie apocalypse movie. Wearing masks and disinfecting my desk at school is so normal and prevalent that I sometimes forget it wasn’t always around. What I’ve learned through the life-changing and isolated year I have experienced – is to enjoy the littlest of things. Savour every moment you spend outside in nature, smile at that person across the street, have that banter with the cashier or waitress, enjoy reading a book or sport, compliment your friends, appreciate time with your family and most importantly, enjoy your own company and be content with yourself. For it is yourself you spend the rest of your life with.
I am now 17 and almost finished my transition year and yet again, I’ve spent most of the year inside at home, unlike any other transition year before me. Before covid, I was able to distract myself from learning who I was by occupying myself with things but when everyone’s life, including mine, took a dire halt, I was able to find myself. Who I am. What I want to do and who I want to be. And although covid and the way the country has handled it angers me, at least during this time I can safely say I didn’t waste it. I’ve learned how to be me and I’m closer to becoming who I want to be which I don’t think my 16-year-old self can say. In a way, I have lived my own Indie movie.
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