By Rebekah Joe
Despite the unprecedented year with COVID-19, many students still took part in the the annual Asian American Heritage Council (AAHC) Student Achiever Awards. The ceremony took place through Zoom on November 7, 2020 to celebrate the great accomplishments in academics, community service, and representation in culture of all the students who applied.
In addition, AAHC also hosted their third annual essay contest, this time giving a prompt regarding the coronavirus: The coronavirus disease ( COVID‐19) pandemic has upended family life around the world. School closures, working remotely, physical distancing ‐ it’s a lot to navigate. From your own experience, describe what you learned from virtual school and real life and how you cope with social distancing during the pandemic. Rebekah Joe, a homeschooled junior, won first place with her response. You can watch her read the essay here or read the essay below.
"I thought that 2020 was going to be the crowning year and start of a new decade, filled with great accomplishments, more opportunities, and more bonding with my community than the previous years. Then, COVID-19 came crashing like a storm and wreaked havoc everywhere, upending our typical lives and making those hopes seem impossible. However, the pandemic changed my perspective on life, helping me realize the importance of supporting my community through thick and thin.
At the beginning of the coronavirus, while people overbought toilet paper and students rejoiced over an extended spring break, I unaffectedly sat at home, taking online classes that I was already accustomed to because of our homeschooling choice. However, after the shutdown, I desperately missed the community activities I took for granted: soccer practices, volunteering, board meetings, and even speech and debate tournaments. Other than doing the typical quarantine activities like going outdoors, baking, reading, taking a road trip, and connecting with friends, I learned how to use my time intentionally to benefit those around me. Each experience of online meetings, wearing a mask, and sanitizing hands reminded me that I sacrificed comforts for the sake of those around me. Next, besides staying focused academically, I found opportunities to mentor and connect a group of 5th-grade girls through Zoom. Additionally, through volunteering for 120 hours as a junior camp counselor at the science center, I found the joys in making kids smile, bonding with them, giving them exciting memories from the summer, and helping each child doing their part to keep the community safe. Each experience opened my eyes to the blessings and comfort that comes from being there for others. Although staying at home is by no means easy, I am grateful that COVID-19 demonstrated the value of a resilient community that compromises and works to support others.
Though I thought that all my plans had been shattered because of COVID-19, I now see that they simply happened differently. While the pandemic has drastically impacted my life, in the last seven months I’ve seen the beauty of people mourning, celebrating, fighting for justice, and supporting each other in unity. Through video calls, online socials, and even leading online dragon boat training, I experienced that community will always encourage me, as I did for others. Thanks to the support of those around me, I've learned that accomplishments aren’t just a trophy I take home, but adapting to my new normal by learning, having flexibility, empathy, and resilience instead of wishing for life to return to normal. Even though my soccer season, speech and debate tournaments, specific volunteer opportunities, and retreats have been canceled, community itself isn’t canceled. Instead, coronavirus helped me reflect on community, racial justice, and how I could support others by actively seeking ways to reach out to them. Though the coronavirus has upended life, each situation since then taught me that despite a global pandemic, community is unstoppable and can never be masked."
Overall, REACH congratulates and is extremely proud of all the student applicants, whether or not they received an award, for all of their hard work!