Night School

I never thought that I would be telling people that I do “night school” at age sixteen.

The first thing that comes to mind upon hearing this phrase is the SNL skit “Night School Musical,” following middle-aged adults trying to earn their GEDs–all with the kick of Disney Channel musical goodness. I would safely say that my current situation is a little different from the aforementioned skit, but it feels almost equally bizarre. 

Finally being back home with my family in China after a chaotic year in the U.S. has been incredibly rewarding. After careful consideration, I decided to stay home and proceed with online learning for the winter term. Unlike most of my peers living in Asia, I was on campus for the start of the school year. I had seen their faces blasted onto whiteboards with occasional unmuting throughout the term, but I never really thought about being on the other side of the classroom–and my decision to go virtual started to worry me.

Entering the first hybrid class, it looked so familiar: all my classmates chatting casually before class, the setup of the classroom, the Groton atmosphere … but felt quite out of place. The delay of video call made it difficult to join in on the banter, I saw my empty seat in the middle row, and it felt incredibly strange to be watching a Groton class from my desk across the globe. My first hybrid class experience left me quite shaken with pixelated image rendering and gurgly audio, causing me to anxiously text some other virtual learners. However, as the day went on, those looming worries about my future online learning experience revealed themselves to be only some minor technical issues. The rest of the day included some very insightful classroom discussions and collaborative activities, making me feel as if I was back on campus a bit more.

Online learning so far has had its fair share of random wifi disconnections, but “night school” is simply a new schedule and method of learning to get used to. During the day, I’ll grab pasta and tea to accompany my homework, and by night I’ll be ready by my desk as my peers get ready to start a day of classes. 

 

Revisiting Chapel

From its chilling, haunted aura on foggy evenings to its warm glow during stunning Groton sunsets, St. John’s Chapel has always been a part of my daily routine on the Circle. My usual morning consisted of inhaling my breakfast and then wobbling from the Dining Hall to the chapel (often with a bit of morning grogginess). A speech and several musical interludes later, I would stumble out; I walked out inspired or chuckling from the chapel talks, but oftentimes, my puffy eyes were the only memorable takeaway.

If it isn’t apparent, I am not a morning person. To make it even worse, I am also a person who functions horribly without good sleep. Arriving at Groton, the chapel requirement was my enemy. Much to my surprise, the looming fear of demerits created some of my most vivid Groton memories: touching senior chapel talks that I will never forget, the nerve-wracking but rewarding performing in postludes, and listening to guest speakers’ stories and legacies. 

When I returned to a socially distanced campus this fall, the school launched the new virtual, live-streamed edition of morning chapel. You can imagine my bliss when hearing that I would be able to watch chapel right from bed. Rather than being a burden, chapel became something relaxing to wake up to. As I went to brush my teeth, I would open up my browser and start my day with melodic organ chords.

However, what struck me the most about chapel this term rested in the moments that I actually spent in the building. I stepped into the chapel for the first time this year to play a postlude. My violin in hand, I rose to the words of Chaplain Read’s prayers. As I glanced upwards, the towering glass window began to glow with morning light, rays peeking through each vibrant shard. Accompanied by a moment of majestic silence, I felt a chill and pull in my chest just as colorful shadows fell in front of my feet.

I raised my eyebrows–I’m not religious at all, and this was the first time I had felt anything like this… feeling so stirred during silent reflection.  Being away from the moment of silence after prayer for so long somehow made me experience such raw emotion. For the first time, I allowed myself to appreciate the beauty of that familiar, moving moment of silence; I closed my eyes and even said a few wishes to myself.

As I played the postlude that day, I leaned into the chapel’s enchanting resonance more than usual, soaking in the morning light.

Countdown

You know a person in quarantine has become really desperate when they Google “countdown creator” and set a time for September 12th: their arrival date for the new school year at Groton.

I’m not going to lie–the quarantine life has its ups and downs. Though I spent a lot of time in the comfort of my own company, the retirement neighborhood I stayed in (with its lack of anyone my age) started to weigh on me. My lonely summer had me building up to this grand date of September 12th. 

During this period of anticipation, my mind wandered around the Groton campus. I daydreamed about being back at school: the lush greens of the Circle, the breathless laughter of late-night dorm conversations, and the majestic sunlit backdrop of the Chapel. I had missed the energy of campus life and all the people that made Groton such a great place.

 Through routine weeks of waking up, eating, studying, watching TV, and staring into black space, I kept opening that countdown tab to check as the days counted down to zero … and, sure enough, that day came. I gladly traded out my usual 13-hour flight for a road trip from New Jersey and set foot on campus. After looking at the Circle through Instagram for the whole summer, seeing Groton in person again was absolutely beautiful. 

The sun reflected from the Athletic Center windows as I stepped out of the car, and it reminded me of a moment in Third Form; I had tried to get a perfect shot of the picturesque shine of the glass. As I walked up through the fields, I was reminded of my short-lived JV lacrosse career. And the pavement around the Circle–site of last-minute sprints to the Chapel and late-night PB&J trips. When the wave of memories rushed over me at that moment, I knew I was back at my second home.

After some friendly greetings and nose swabs, I was back at my dorm with a castle of packing boxes. Yes, I dreaded sorting my terrifying mess of belongings, but I found a certain warmth in unpacking again. 

And … here I am, writing from my new room in Kelly’s Dorm. There’s a view of a tree-filled backyard from my window, and the sunlight peeks through onto my desk perfectly. Snuggling against the back of my chair, I finally removed the countdown from my bookmark tab. 

 

Looking Around

I spent the first eight years of my life in Chicago and then moved to Shanghai. I’ve always found myself stuck in between both of my homes—these lively metropolitan cities. Living in each place is drastically different, but I love them equally. However, the past months have forced me to settle in the antithesis of my previous neighborhoods: the calm New Jersey suburbs.

Unfortunately, I found myself literally “stuck.” With my U.S. passport, amidst raging coronavirus cases in the country, flying back to Shanghai was difficult. Thankfully, over time I eased into quarantine life in my new setting. Like anyone else, I experienced online high school and watched way too many movies, but being far from home during the pandemic forced me to take a look at what was going on around me.

Attending Groton, I spent a lot of time in America, but I was in a bubble of studying and school life. I never really took a moment to understand what was really happening in the U.S. Sure, I grew up in America, but only lived here as a child. I began by admiring the suburban landscape, but eventually started tuning in to news channels and took an interest in being politically informed. In such a polarizing time in America, I was incentivized to start educating myself.

Incorporating watching the news into my daily routine, I gained a fuller understanding of the current government, and how people in power can affect individuals and the America that I will live in. I also learned about the meaning of the social movements happening around me. Using social media to follow accounts like Black at Groton and to read stories from my BIPOC peers, I was able to gain insight into personal stories and truly understand the power and cruciality of Black Lives Matter.

My time in quarantine has had its fair share of boredom and frustration, but my stay in New Jersey has allowed me to learn so much—an experience I might have missed with a summer back in Shanghai.

Musicmaking, But at a Distance

My current makeshift practice room set-up is quite representative of the quarantine situation I’ve been subjected to: my violin case is propped up on a chair with the support of a few suitcases, my foldable wire music stand resting in the corner of the room. Music can seem especially difficult in a time like this, with performance opportunities dwindling and social distancing preventing in-person music lessons or collaboration. Strangely, in the midst of lost opportunities, quarantine improved my relationship with music.

When learning at Groton transformed into a totally different online experience, my music lessons stayed the same. I’ve been doing FaceTime lessons with my violin teacher for years, and the steadiness of my music routine was very comforting, especially when it seemed like every other aspect of my life was changing. I first started with my teacher when I lived in Chicago, and there would be weekly studio classes. They were mini-recitals where all of my teacher’s students would come together to perform a piece they were working on. Unfortunately, after my move to Shanghai, I wasn’t able to attend studio class anymore. Once coronavirus hit, all her students transferred to virtual music lessons, and I got an invitation to studio class for the first time in years. Though this zoom version of studio class lacked the cutting nerve of a live audience, the weekly performances were incredibly nostalgic, bringing me back to some of my earlier violin memories.

My spare time also allowed me to take a deep delve into an application at the bottom of my computer screen: GarageBand. I had occasionally played around with the program on my off days, but the past few months have allowed me to really have fun with some arrangements. With the help of my headphone mic, I tried my hand at arranging some a cappella songs and recording some Pentatonix covers. Though my mixing and audio quality were far from amazing, I ended the summer with a folder on my laptop dedicated to all my creations.

It didn’t really matter that I was playing off an unbalanced music stand or singing into a flimsy mic—this summer has been one of the most fulfilling periods of time for my music. I definitely miss collaborating with other musicians, but there is a certain charm to music-making in the comfort and solitude of my bedroom.