Rising from the Sun

If it weren’t for the pandemic, I wouldn’t be me.


I always veered away from class discussions. Embedded in a classroom lecture, I would wander in my own head, lost in my own thoughts. Daydreaming anomalous scenarios, the noisy class suddenly disappeared as if someone had just muffled my ears.

Sitting there, in a plastic chair, I was clueless about what the teacher was saying. It wasn’t because I didn’t appreciate my teachers’ efforts, but because I knew I could learn it when I got home. Once that clock hit 2:45 p.m., I was ready to go. Shoving papers and pencils into my backpack; jumping up as if it were my first day of school; peering at familiar faces; reassuring friendships with simple handshakes. Who knew it could all end so quickly.

I don’t think anyone truly considered that a pandemic could bring our normalized society to an end. Who reckoned we’d all be sitting at home, perched over a little cubic screen that took all sense of humanity away. The feeling of being unhurried and not having to wake up, rushing your pants and shirt on, hurrying to grab something to fill your stomach: how is it all gone?

During the early days of February 2020, I felt like the typical sophomore. Friends were my priority, and my social life was just getting started: friends began to get their driving licenses; we could stay out later and could enjoy our new freedom.

Sophomore year is truly the bridge between being a teen and an adult, and I was trying to find my way. I was still prioritizing my friendships, or what I thought were my essential friendships. Friends I spoke to every day that I thought I had built a keen relation with all came to a halt on March 13, 2020.

When March 18 came around, I started working with my mom and cleaning because I had nothing else to do. Friendships came to a halt, and my mom wanted me to open my eyes and learn what reality surely was.

Being a track athlete, my training sessions were typically three hours long and quite strenuous. When I run a 200-meter dash, or when I work with my mother at night, cleaning five offices with her after she comes home from her other job, there was no time to stop, like my track practices.

When April came around, and things began to really settle down, I had a lot more time to myself. During that time, I realized I wanted to be the person I used to be. I realized the friends I had in February all went our separate ways. What was important was getting back to the person I used to be.

The changes came: waking up at 5 a.m. every morning to run or study, even if I didn’t want to or not. Or reading books that sparked my delight towards becoming a neurosurgeon, an hour or two a day, “The Remembered Present” by Gerald M. Edilemen, and “The Nature of Blood ‘’ by Caryl Phillips. I realized I’ve always had the goal to go to Harvard University, but I lost sight of how to get to the goal.

Finally, after all this time, I had a pause, and I realized, “this is how I need to get there.” I finally remembered it was not by chance that I would get there.

I have completely focused on really studying what I’m passionate about. Because I truly have a goal of becoming a neurosurgeon and have the goal to provide for my mother and those in need. I’m endeavored to do something great in the world, and I’m fascinated by the brain and love learning about “the theory of consciousness,” “the complexity of memory,” and “how does sensory transduction work” — especially because it is so fundamental to human cognition. These big questions are parts of our lives, but we have no concept of understanding.

Instead of being in a schoolroom, sitting in a plastic chair with 32 of my peers and going six hours a day, I’ve created my own school within the walls of my house, tailored to learn about what I hold dearest to me. At home, I teach myself distinctions I presume are vital to succeed for the life I have created and the life I chose. It’s an intentional choice. Every single morning I don’t always want to wake up.

It takes rigidity, self-discipline and commitment to put my feet on the floor and go run or study. When I show up and the metal bleachers are shiny silver, with the still snow. When I ride my bike to the track, I’m the only person there because there aren’t even cars out. But, I show up.

During these past times, ending the evenings at 10 p.m. with my mom, carrying the vacuum to the trunk and popping it in there, shutting the trunk and getting in the car and heading home. There isn’t another person I would want to end my days with. A year ago, I would have never done that, but now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I learned more about my mom, myself, what it means to work, what it means to live and what matters. You should take a look at your life and ask yourself if that’s the life you want to be living.

“As I continue building this life, I’m going to continue doing these things that make me feel whole and healthy — things that make me feel close to the people I love.”