My Honest Experience Returning to School


Menlo students work on homework together during the first day returning to campus since last year. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov.

Louisa Sonsini, Opinions Editor

Reflecting on the past 13 months, I can’t help but chuckle at some of the things we’ve done. We’ve hoarded toilet paper, we’ve made hand sanitizer and some of us have even cut our own hair. The COVID-19 pandemic made us do things out of sheer desperation, and one thing’s for sure: it’s been a very weird year. 

But things are starting to return to normal, and the pandemic’s end seems to be in sight — students are even coming back to school at full capacity. Many of us are seeing classmates for the first time in over a year. It’s exciting and encouraging, but, again, it’s been weird. 

Returning to school has prompted mixed emotions for me. It’s amazing to reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a while and finally see my teachers in person. I feel like I’m beginning to regain my personal connections, and it’s exhilarating. I’m not trapped behind my computer screen anymore. My social circle is slowly expanding too. But at the same time, seeing people after a year is awkward and uncomfortable. The pandemic not only paused time and relationships, but it also caused everything to take a step backward. It feels like we have to make up for lost ground, fast. 

After summer break, a normal first day includes enthusiastic reunions and bear hugs. The atmosphere is loud and full of excitement as statements like “How was your summer? I want to hear all about it!” and “Did you travel anywhere?” fill the air.

But because we’re returning from online school and not summer, small talk is harder. We can’t ask where people traveled or what people did over the past couple of months. Conversation topics are bland and short-lived. What are we supposed to ask each other? How’s online school been? 

The pandemic and its social distancing mandates have confined friend groups, at least in my experience. It has uncovered both the genuine relationships and the surface-level ones. Simply put, people have either made an effort, or they haven’t. There is no in-between. So when we see an acquaintance on the quad after a year, it isn’t an animated reunion. It’s usually a plain “Hi, how are you?” In some cases, there isn’t a conversation but a mutual avoidance. 

At times, this experience has been unsettling for me because just like everyone else, I’ve never experienced anything like it. 

Before the pandemic, I would consider myself a floater. In the past, I’ve never really had a “friend group.” I’ve always just floated across different groups of people. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the term “friend group.” The phrase feels overly exclusive to me. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the social scene. Many people I used to be friendly with are people I haven’t connected with for months. So rather than reconnecting with others at school, I feel myself drifting back to the few friends I repeatedly saw throughout quarantine. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to being in a friend group. 

These friend groups — formed primarily because of the pandemic — divide the quad. So instead of one big circle of people, smaller ones dot the campus. I’ve never seen Menlo so separated. 

Despite the social division, I’ve noticed that people are friendlier. I’ve probably waved to more people in the past couple of days than I have the whole year. The pandemic has forced us to develop a greater appreciation for socializing, so we no longer take everyone on campus for granted. People value simple gestures like waving so much more.

And while COVID-19 has caused a unique social scene, I am grateful for the relationships it has solidified. The pandemic has allowed me to establish much deeper, more profound connections with people. So although my friend group is smaller now, it’s much stronger, and I have COVID-19 to thank for that. 

I’m also hopeful that these awkward interactions are only temporary. I have faith that friend groups won’t starkly divide us in the future. We just need to adjust… even if it means some uncomfortable small talk on the quad.