OppJar Scholar Essays 

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Nicholas: Realizing that putting others first is in my DNA

In her powerful and moving poem, “The Hill We Climb,” Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman said, “The new dawn blooms as we free it, for there is always light if only we're brave enough to see it If only we're brave enough to be it.”

I have kept my optimism and pursuit of helping others throughout this challenging year. I can not complain because even though I am devastated by not going to school in person, seeing my friends, and participating in extracurricular activities, I know that there are others less fortunate and others that have lost loved ones. I have reserved my energies to helping those in need beginning within my own family.

My 80-year-old grandparents have done so much for me, my parents, and my siblings. If it were not for their sacrifice of coming to this country from Mexico, we would not be here. I recognize their sacrifice every day. 

During the pandemic, I saw them impacted tremendously. Their routine of going to the store, socializing with their friends, going to their doctor’s visits, and their peace of mind, disappeared. I have found ways to help my grandparents keep physically and mentally active. What is the most amazing is that, along the way, they have taught me so much about how they grew up. Their inspiring stories and life lessons will be in my heart forever. So I ask myself, “Did I help them, or did they help me?”
One can assert that the pandemic has been terrible and that the death and devastation it has caused are horrifying. However, I hope we hang on to the humanity that this pandemic has caused and that we recognize the compassion and support we have offered to each other. I have learned important lessons that I will not put away after the pandemic is over. 

I have made a promise to my grandparents that from now on until I go to college, we will play “Loteria” every Wednesday night and that on Saturdays, we will dedicate part of our day to cleaning our yard. For me, this year of devastation has been a year of reflection and of identifying what is truly important in our lives. I have been brave enough to see the light of a new dawn.

Daijia: Finding resilience no matter the circumstance

Without my resilience, I don’t know where I would be today. 

From this pandemic, I have mastered becoming a resilient and determined student. I have an Individualized Education Plan, and soon I was now learning to better deal with the disability that I have had since elementary school.  I motivated myself to study more while creating time in my schedule to dedicate my time to other practices.
I can do anything that I put my mind, effort and time into. And when I did that my life started to transform, I started receiving student of the month awards, passing finals, higher GPA’s even though I used to think I was not intelligent like my other classmates because of my disability.
With time I realized I am beyond my learning disability and my circumstances at home.
My mom is an independent single mother, taking care of two kids alone. I am left doing the other half of what my mom can’t because she works doubles and I don’t mind.  She is honestly the only person in my life that takes care of me  and makes sure that I am comfortable. 

My resilience has taught me that it is about how you carry the load; not how much of the load you’re carrying.
Danielle: Lessons from a postponed ‘Quince’

In September 2020 we made the decision to postpone my Quinceanera due to the fact that there were already millions of coronavirus cases in the United States. We were planning to fly family all the way from Mexico. Everything was booked for the event. This was devastating news to hear since I have been waiting for this important milestone. But then I came to an understanding that it can wait.  

Sadly, my grandma can’t attend because she passed away due to COVID. A lot of people don’t believe that this virus is dangerous and that it is just another flu. The virus spread to many people in my family, and it was very complicated to deal with since a lot of my family has underlying health conditions which are very risky during this time. 
Throughout the lockdown, I have been posting information about the virus and how to prevent catching it, on social media. 

This difficult obstacle has taught me how to have the resilience to overcome a challenge in life and it showed me that you don’t have to be in-person with your family to be close. This experience taught me that family is everything and you have to sacrifice for them. I believe that this experience will be an important reminder to believe in science. 

We had a virtual party (for my birthday) and it really taught me that family can go through many obstacles, but we'll find a light at the end of the tunnel.
Jacqueline: Relearning How to Learn

Without a doubt, 2020 was a year for growth and change in all our lives. It tested my resilience not only personally but also academically. I was the student in the classroom who would simply raise her hand if she had a question, in online school, that wasn't as easy.

I was able to work everything out through resources from school. I reached out to my school and they informed me about a program of WiFi which was affordable for my mother. As for technology, after months I started gaining more and more experience. It forced me to build a communication on my own through emails mostly. I did not use email pre-COVID to get to my teachers. I had to learn an appropriate format to reach out and held myself responsible for learning the material. 

Almost a year later, I felt more prepared than I did before, I have learned that ultimately no one is more responsible for my education than myself. I started talking to my teachers, attending office hours, doing extra assignments, being more participant in class and it helped me raise my grade. Now I reach out to my teachers more, attend office hours regularly, ask questions, and I'm more responsible for the responsibility I have in my classes.

I learned that life throws some unexpected problems at you, but it doesn't stop, you have to keep going. I understood then that my education was in my hands.
Isabel: Newfound appreciation for ‘abuelitos’; mental health and new activities

For almost a year now, my life has altered extensively with the effects of the ongoing global pandemic. Academically, I had to rapidly adapt to the new way of learning which I found quite hard without collaborating with my peers and teachers. Although, I’ve found new study methods and new ways of learning virtually with my peers and it has helped me in obtaining exceptional grades so far. 

However, my mental health throughout this pandemic has honestly been a rollercoaster. Oftentimes, I’ve felt depressed and unwilling to do anything for almost two to three weeks since I felt as if things would never turn back to normal. Now I have concluded that this is only temporary, and I must find the strength within myself to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Seeing how this pandemic has affected several of my family members mentally has made me recognize how significant it is to show and give each other love and empathy.

While my lifestyle was changing, I found new hobbies aside from volleyball: mountain biking, hiking, painting, walking my Nina’s dog, enjoying my family more, spending time with my great-grandparents, and learning how to cook more. Even the start of my mom’s balloon garland business! 

Recently, my great-grandpa has unfortunately been diagnosed with cancer and we believe that my great-grandma has early-onset dementia which saddens me to know that both of my great-grandparents are going through such things during a pandemic.
With my great grandparents' health, my mom and I have taken on the responsibility to help care for them. Their presence in my life has made me aware of how fortunate I am to be around them. 

In conclusion, the past eleven months have not been the easiest, but I’ve come to appreciate the simple things in life and life itself.  
Nikki: An early COVID scare, and finding community in books

At the onset of COVID-19 everything that was happening felt surreal. I remember the laughter, joy, and smiling faces of my peers in my classroom, and then it was all gone. I felt out of touch with others and like the world was moving rapidly leaving me behind. 

It did not really hit me until my family became ill, and what was devastating was that I felt as though it was all my fault. I had gone to get my freshman photo taken. I was excited but a couple of days afterward I felt ill. I did not become alarmingly sick, but my grandparents did, and I felt that if anything were to happen to them it would be my fault. Fortunately, they recovered, and it was a great relief. 

As quarantine continued, I was determined to find an escape; a way of coping with the world around me and when I finally found one it felt alleviating. I discovered that reading (novels) transported me to another world, so I urged my friends to do the same. Many of them expressed to me that they had a strong distaste for reading, but I recommended them to try reading something that caught their attention/interest. I felt proud of myself because I had found a positive escape from a dire situation, and I would like to believe I also helped others find that escape. 

One of my favorite novels that I have read during quarantine would have to be The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It helped me understand that I was not alone in what I was feeling.
Salmai: Adapting to change and taking action

At the start of the pandemic, many believed a two week suspension would be enough to figure out this virus.  From there it was a roller coaster of emotions. Barely adjusting to the transition from in-class school to distance learning, I put great effort into trying to understand the new method of using the Google classroom chat to learn. I retook tests and wrote notes during class to help me understand and take advantage of the little work we were receiving. My efforts paid off when towards the end of the school year, I was satisfied with the A- that read on my report card. 

As summer began, I had more time on my hands, so I decided to get a job since college was only a few months away. However, because of the pandemic, there weren’t many places hiring. Instead, most businesses were closed. 

I come from a low income family. It was essential for me to get a job to start saving for my college tuition and expenses. As summer ended and my senior year began, I decide to take action into my own hands. I went in the next day and got interviewed the day after, just to land the job a week later.  Things start to turn around, I start saving money, classes run smoother, and my well-being improves.  

Then my beloved aunt passed away. Her passing was an eye opener to me because many lost their loved ones this year. 

I felt grateful to come to the realization that even with the lack of resources, we still had our family. My drive and positive outlook on all things, is what helps me to overcome the toughest of challenges. I refuse to let the doors shutting on my face, keep me from my success and goals.
Ulyses: Revaluating self-worth and what it means to succeed

The year 2020 will be stuck in my memory for the rest of my life. Throughout it being stressful my mindset was impacted. Changes were needed everywhere I needed to change. Experiencing events throughout this time was difficult, I was powerless. My soul felt empty, hurt, and angry. But my family and friends were always there.

Thinking about the most impactful event in 2020 were my grades. I had been managing my time horribly, I could have been a 4.0 GPA student, but my grades were dropping fast. I had lost hope and will to keep trying. I had cried looking at my grades and knew this wasn’t happening. It was difficult. I was stuck in my room for hours studying, not spending time with my family, which I love.

Even though I had that challenge, I started overcoming this with hope from my parents, friends, and professors. I got to improve my grade in that math class by doing an extra program that boosted my grade to an A- which was an achievement. But was I truly happy? The answer was a bit; I had stressed over a grade, that determined my overall performance in the class, but it didn’t determine the person I was. I learned to accept that my grades don’t make me the person I am today.

From learning to balance out my school life and personal life, I got to achieve the inner peace inside of me. I got to understand myself, gain some confidence, and got to love myself deep inside.

It may be all a surprise, but losing myself was a part of finding myself. I got to pick myself back up. As life put me down with difficult obstacles, I got to overcome them in the end. After I realized I was becoming a better person, everything started going well. Life never stops, it always continues.