End of high school prompts reflection, exploration of memories

Nora Crutcher-McGowan, Editor-in-Chief

The global COVID-19 pandemic framed much of my high school stint. When I try to sort memories or events from the past four years of my life in my brain, I categorize everything into the “before times” and the “after times.” I think many of my peers hold a similar outlook. It is fascinating to recognize just how much significant cultural change has occurred since the “before times,” from rapid growth and promotion of contactless services, such as food delivery apps like DoorDash, to increased political polarity and dissonance or the rise of epidemics associated with mental health and loneliness under one looming pandemic. Even the word “mask” currently lies in the top 3% of looked-up words, according to Merriam-Webster, and has contextualized much of our conversations surrounding topics like public and mental health— even influencing fashion—in the last two years. 

I never contracted COVID-19 in March 2020, nor did I get sick the remainder of that year or the next. It was during my second-to-last week of high school, a time that is supposed to be filled with some of the best memories in my life—according to the movies, at least—that I finally entered the COVID-19 club. Perhaps “finally” is not the right word. I was not excited to be sick. But, while trapped in my room, I was forced to think about the past.

High school was mostly a blur. The best times were captured in the form of fleeting moments. All of these memories were pieced together by my senses, which are often complimentary of strong memories, especially those carried by smell. 

New Year’s Eve 2019 felt like a significant “before” time. It was the end of a decade and, in hindsight, the end of my childhood as I knew it. My two closest friends and I wore pajamas and played one—or maybe even two—board games incorrectly, which we found very amusing. There is a video of my friend playing the piano and the keys ring almost clamorously as hushed banter and laughter provide backing vocals for the random song.   

It was moments like these in my car, finding corners of the town I thought I knew so well, trading the loud noises of College Avenue or Broadway with streets I had never turned on before, that I began to appreciate some of its unfamiliarity.

In spring 2020, I cringed at the overbearing scent of Arkansas dogwood trees that followed me along on my daily, sometimes twice-daily walks, a precaution I took to keep me from going crazy while cooped up in quarantine at my dad’s house. As a child of divorce—I think this sounds dramatic, and I like to say it—I traveled down to my dad’s house once a month for much of my childhood, since my parents lived five hours apart. I spent a month with my dad, stepmom and step-siblings for a change of scenery, and had not witnessed the full-fledged unraveling of an Arkansas spring in eight years. I had probably never had the chance to appreciate spring for a long time until that period, just because of how much newfound time I had on my hands. Red and pink blossoms flooded my eyes as the typical noisy sounds of spring or music accompanied my walks. At that time, I never knew my sudden environment could change so drastically, reflecting the even more drastic change occurring in the outside world. I also never knew how much the pandemic would continue to shape my time in high school. It all felt very temporary at the time. 

However dispiriting and grim times could be, I think I still managed to find joy in some of the more quintessential high school experiences. Like most, I found solace in the form of a car. For me, it was a used, clanky, 2000 Toyota Corolla, with seats that came entrenched with the faded scent of cigarettes, a smell I infused with a New Car Scent tree, causing a peculiar aroma that still greets me any time I enter my car. After I could push the gas and go, the second most important factor for me in having a car was the stereo. I knew I could not use Bluetooth or even an aux cord because my car was too old, so for a while, I used a frequency modulation transmitter to essentially steal radio signals to play my music. After a couple of midwestern summers spent attempting to decipher songs like “12:51” by The Strokes while Christian radio show sermons awkwardly jumbled and mixed with the lyrics, I gave in to just collecting CDs. One of the first ones I played was Vampire Weekend’s debut album, which I found from a collection of old CDs belonging to my brother and sister. During my junior year, I coincidentally found myself driving around the University of Missouri—Columbia campus while listening to the song “Campus” from that album. In true teenager fashion, I dramatically took this moment as a chance to be wistful and pondered whether I would end up in my hometown for college. Fitting to my editor-in-chief position, I would play that whole album through, patiently waiting every run-through to shout the lyrics to “Oxford Comma.” 

It was moments like these, in my car finding corners of the town I thought I knew so well, trading the loud noises of College Avenue or Broadway with streets I had never turned on before, that I began to appreciate some of its unfamiliarity. In turn, I became more comfortable with this town—and probably myself. 

I am not sure what I really learned in high school. I do know I am a very different person from the freshman who walked into the school almost four years ago. I am grateful the pieces of my childhood and adolescence came together, giving me unique experiences I can continue to carry with me. 

What is your best memory from high school?