COVID-19 Open Forum: Ann Zhao

Ann Zhao, Outside Contributor

I haven’t cried about it yet.

When members of our show choirs heard that their last competition was canceled, three of them ran out of my math class in tears. Another girl quietly sobbed throughout third period. Just like that, years of anticipation were gone. 

But as they mourned, I thought, perhaps a little selfishly, of the night before, when I got a text from Midwest JSA Governor Litsa Kapsalis that all Spring State conventions across the country were to be canceled. 

It was 9:04 p.m. I was coming back from the kitchen, in the hallway, about to go up the stairs. My phone buzzed with the notifications.

NO

it’s cancelled

i’m gonna cry

no

no

no

I called Mrs. Seubold, the JSA advisor. I called Olivia, Naperville North JSA’s chapter president. Litsa called me and the other JSA directors. Then she called me and Claire Yu, the Midwest Lieutenant Governor. 

I crumpled on the floor of my bedroom, nauseated, defeated. I could barely brush my teeth without gagging. I couldn’t fall asleep. I took a Benadryl to force my body to rest. 

For the unaware, JSA is a nonpartisan political club that aims to educate students and help foster productive political discussions where students with diverse points of view can find commonalities and empathize with each other. Spring State is the last JSA convention of the year. Students from around the Midwest all congregate in a hotel, debate nuanced issues affecting the United States, meet each other, learn from each other. And it carries some sentimentality. We hold elections for the next year’s leadership. It’s the seniors’ last big thing. It’s the last time you see a lot of people; last year, I broke down into sobs for about an hour straight at the end, and my eyes stung for the next two days. 

Spring State is closure. 

And I’ve found myself thinking the last few days of what the class of 2020 is all going to do without that closure. Without that space to reflect on the years of hard work we’ve been putting into organizations that exist for students to put effort into. Without the ending that we’ve been planning for, the ending that we knew was going to be the ending right when we began. Without a final goodbye. 

The future holds a lot of uncertainty. It’s absolutely terrifying. I don’t know where I’m going to college, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up and I don’t know how I’ll live my life as an adult. 

I don’t know who will be the next Midwest Governor. I don’t know when JSA will hire a new Midwest program director, an adult who helps us kids figure out everything complicated about JSA. I don’t know what will be the ultimate trajectory of JSA, whether or not a nonpartisan political organization can survive through the exceedingly polarized nature of our current political climate. 

Spring State was one of the only certain things I had. 

I joked, before it was officially canceled, about what we’d do without the sweet, sweet catharsis of closing session. How unfortunate it is that we really won’t. 

JSA doesn’t feel over yet, and I don’t like that at all. And I know it’s not really over. Midwest Cabinet will still have some assignments to complete. JSA at North will keep on meeting for as long as we can. Elections will still happen, just not in person. We aren’t completely finished.

But as far as gathering together goes, that’s not going to happen at all. There are people in JSA that I will never, ever see in person again. I don’t get to come to terms with that at a set time anymore, nor does anybody else in the senior class. 

Seniors in organizations all over the country are facing the same crises. When you build much of your identity around a sport or a club that ends prematurely, what even happens to your identity? Who am I without JSA? I thought I wouldn’t have to answer that question until three, four months from now. 

For that matter, our underclassman members, our coaches and our advisors face just as much uncertainty. How long will the virus keep on wreaking havoc before they can return to business? How long will it take for business to go back to normal? Can business be normal at all next year, or the year after, with so much damage to patch up? What effect will this have on our futures, not just a few years from now, but in the long run? 

These are all questions that we won’t get the answer to for a long time. And sitting with myself, quarantined in my house (my mom won’t let us leave unless absolutely necessary), the questions keep coming. 

I also know, however, that life goes on. Humanity has moved past worse events. Our lives aren’t over just because our senior year was so incredibly chaotic. We’re all facing loss. We’re all missing out on something. We’re all currently living through what will probably be the most formative experience of our lives. Despite all our differences, COVID-19 has finally given us some common ground. 

And ironically, isn’t that what JSA is all about?

Ann Zhao is a senior at Naperville North and the Midwest JSA chief of staff.