A New School Year Brings Another New Normal


Rowan O'Flanagan

Students walk around campus during the first day of in-person school in August 2020. Last school year was characterized by constantly changing COVID mitigation policies.

Rowan O'Flanagan, Opinion Editor

When the pandemic first began seemingly countless months ago, it certainly wasn’t supposed to last this long. The problem was daunting but the solution was simple: just stay home for a few grueling weeks and help stop the spread, guaranteeing a rapid end to the whole ordeal. Although fear and uncertainty were omnipresent, so too was hope for a swift and seamless return to the way things had been before.  

As we all know far too well, it didn’t take long for that hope to come crashing down. Discussions of a triumphant return to normalcy were rapidly replaced with concerns of a second, and then third, surge in COVID cases. Decreasing transmission and hospitalization rates were inevitably followed by news of some terrifying new variant or shifting circumstances. Even the beginning of last school year, heralded by many families and politicians alike as a chance for students to finally regain their routines, was marred by inconsistent and ever-changing guidelines.  

This new school year seems increasingly likely to continue in that pattern of stifled pandemic hopes. As COVID cases have surged to record-breaking numbers in Florida, forcing mask requirements to be reinstated, any hopes of a normal year seem to be slipping away. It’s hard not to wonder: when every new chance at normal is somehow thrown awry, why bother to hope for it at all?  

I have no idea whether life will ever actually return to the way it was prior to the pandemic – though I really doubt it will – but continuing to hope for “normal” may be the best option we have. Though it’s certainly easier not to think about, the worst impacts of the pandemic are undoubtedly felt not in schools but in overwhelmed hospitals and grieving families. It’s a reality too painful to truly consider for any extended period of time. It’s so much easier, so much more comfortable to just shut it out and think “it could never happen to me.”  

It’s that tendency that makes the act of hoping so very important. A return to normal can only occur when the worst suffering caused by COVID has subsided, meaning any actions which help move society towards normalcy, in the long run, must also help to ease that suffering. So whenever the incomprehensible scope of the pain that COVID is causing becomes too much to even attempt to think about, I can instead focus on hope for normalcy, and take actions that I know are in the best interest of attaining it.   

As we begin this new school year, I hope it will be a normal one. I hope that between vaccinations and common-sense safety measures, we’ll actually get to enjoy so many of the timeless traditions and casual little moments which we took for granted. Maybe most of all, I hope we’ll be able to smile knowing that normal was reached only through preventing the suffering of others.

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