Blog: Lessons from the pandemic help a high school senior prepare for college, career, and life

This blog is the fourth in an occasional series written by local people and businesses as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, Route Bay City features Emma Urbaniak, a 17-year-old Bay City Western High School senior.

Never in a million years would I have imagined my senior year of high school taking place in the middle of a pandemic. I guess it is true when they say expect the unexpected. The end of my junior year fizzled into pieces, as the SAT was canceled, AP exams were altered to an online version, multiple musical performances of mine were canceled, and many of my favorite activities disappeared into thin air.

Looking back at the past year, some of my “lasts” in high school could have already happened and I didn’t even know it at the time. I am a bit nervous that I possibly had my last homecoming, my last band practice, my last pep assembly. I am thankful for the opportunities provided to me throughout these last 3 years. It is all very scary, of course, to see what comes next, but really, all I can do is wait and see what happens. It is almost a feeling of helplessness because, quite honestly, all we can do is watch and take this situation step by step.

These new conditions, especially over the summer, gave me a glimpse into life after high school. It showed me how many day-to-day activities I take for granted. Without the school routine, everyday activities such as talking to peers, vanished. Since March, I’ve learned that the parts of life I put effort into bring me the biggest impact.

Some of that may sound negative. It may appear as if I think this situation destroyed my life, but to tell the truth, it may have bettered it in many ways. I've always firmly believed everything happens for a reason. If this pandemic had never happened, I might never have realized the importance of spending time with family. I might have continued taking everyday activities and my peers for granted.

I’m using the time to think carefully about my next steps in life. I have always been told to choose a career wisely, as well as look at how popular that career will be in the future. This pandemic has made me even more cautious in pursuing my career and college options. Right now, my interests are guided toward literature and writing, or fields such as psychology and family studies. I always hoped to make smart decisions, but the pandemic has positively been a reminder to always stay on my toes.

Setting aside all my wondering and thoughts this summer, I was able to enjoy my favorite activities and hobbies. My summer made me realize that I am not as bad at painting as I thought. Also, I found out that biking is something I actually enjoy. It turns out when I have the time to work on something, it’s a whole lot easier to succeed. I spent my summer improving my piano skills. Piano is something I have been working on since 6th grade, so this free time helped me gain even more appreciation for it.

As for the upcoming school year, after much discussion and brainstorming, my family and I have decided I will be returning to the in-person learning option as soon as it is available. I have to admit, it will be weird to sit with a shield on my desk, as well as wear a mask all day. Of course, I still wonder how the school day will play out, but I am ready to take on the year and finish up high school in the best way possible.

I hope to return to some of my favorite activities. It was heartbreaking to miss out on a lot of the normal activities these past few months.

The Bay Area Community Foundation Youth Advisory Council has been a big part of my high school years as it is something I am passionate about. As chair, I am super excited to jump into this year. This group used to gather in person once every month, but as the world saw these past few months, Zoom may be the new normal for a while.

I am also involved in Big Brother Big Sisters, as well as the Maier and Associates Youth Board. These groups are all about giving back to the community and bettering lives. I hope to still be able to do that during these hard times. Now is when some people need it the most.

When the pandemic decreases in intensity, I hope to be able to celebrate like the world used to. I hope to greet each other like we used to and I hope to live like we used to. It’s crazy to think that we would all go to parties and celebrations WITHOUT MASKS! There was no limit on the size of gatherings. Thinking far ahead, graduation parties of 2021 will most likely not be the same as they were before COVID-19.

I am not entirely sure what is in store next. As a 17 year old caught up in the chaos of 2020, I am anxious to know what the rest of my year and the rest of my life hold. I am eager to know how to plan my future safely in a world of craziness and constant change. My upcoming senior year will be nowhere near traditional, but I am ready to spend my last year of high school with a new mindset of cautiousness.

Just as I will make adjustments to make the most of my senior year, I also hope to take on life challenge by challenge. If anything, this pandemic has taught me that sometimes life is difficult, but all you can do is your best and learn from the challenges. 

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