#The High School Experience

Summer programs, trips, camps, jobs, internships, research, and more are likely to be canceled or moved online. Some are still in a state of limbo, with coordinators (and, therefore, students) holding out hope that they may be able to continue as planned.

First and foremost, we truly feel for all of the students who will miss opportunities to learn new skills, explore new places, and connect with friends old and new this summer.

With that said, students must consider the possibility – in most cases, probability – of  canceled plans. Hope for the best, of course, but prepare for “the worst.”

Note the quotes. There are still plenty of opportunities to do something personal and meaningful  during COVID-19.

These are not just encouraging or reassuring words. It is the truth, even for students struggling with motivation. 

Do you have a student who is filling every free hour with video games? An idea: organize a tournament where every participant puts in a certain amount of money, and the winner gets to choose a COVID charity to donate to. If the idea gains traction, make a social media page and turn it into a series.

Or how about a student who is filling those same hours with Netflix? What if they organize a virtual film discussion club (or throw in the corresponding books and make it a film-book club)? This is a great way to stay connected with socially distant friends, and if it continues into the fall, they can try to get a teacher to sponsor a school-sanctioned “club.”

As difficult and disappointing as shutdowns may be, there is no reason for teens to be unhappy or unfulfilled in their extracurricular activities. They should, at the same time, not feel compelled to do something “just for college.” The limits to making any interest, curiosity, or pursuit more personally enriching – and beneficial to the broader world – are one’s imagination. Now is a time for students to embrace their ikigai.  

Here is a simple thought process to follow to find an ‘insurance plan’ for the summer in case all other plans fall through:

  1. Start with what is meaningful and interesting to you, personally. The key is truly enjoying your pursuits. While many teens are still discovering their passions, simply start small: what are two or three things that you like to do, or would like to learn more about. 
  2. Ask yourself how that interest can be taken to the next level. There are boundless opportunities for more advanced learning through online courses. (And finally a chance to explore whether that prospective major is really right for you!) Everyone with a laptop has the ability to start a blog, podcast, or video series to connect with others – not to mention share knowledge, skills, talents, or hobbies through Zoom. Sing and play an instrument? Teach lessons or lead virtual sing-a-longs! Love baking for fun? Start a baking vlog to share delicious ways to spend quarantine.
  3. Consider how your pursuit can be not only personally enriching, but could also help the world? Creative hobbies can turn into artistic collections or Etsy businesses where proceeds are donated to those in need. (Sewing homemade masks is heroic, but selling paintings you make to raise money for a local food bank is equally admirable.) Binge-watching “West Wing” or spending hours reading/watching the news can turn into advocacy and activism right in your the living room. 2021 will be an amazing year for anyone with civic engagement and socially conscious interests – reach out to political campaigns, local and national, for at-home volunteer opportunities. And with so many small businesses suffering right now, students can take any number of business and creative skills and offer them for free to local companies in need. Offer to build a business a website, or take professional photos for them to build up their social media presence.
  4. Make it happen. Right now, the struggle for many is not having a normal routine, which makes taking initiative and action even more difficult than usual. So create a schedule. Make your pursuits a part of your daily routine so that every morning starts with the promise of direction and purpose – something to look forward to. Form daily or weekly objectives and track your progress as you go, so that later, you can demonstrate how much you’ve achieved and grown through your commitments. Reach out to friends, your favorite teachers, or others in your community to discuss your projects with them, gather new ideas and feedback, and see if they’d like to join you and collaborate.

This summer is likely to be atypical – again. We would be remiss if we did not mention that colleges are likely to favor applicants who were able to be resilient and creative in a time of crisis, harnessing their imagination for greater personal insight, intellectual or career exploration, and skill and character development. Your students should ultimately be selecting, and creating, activities based on their own personal interests and drives. Those who succeed in doing so tend to be viewed most favorably in the admissions process, and will also gain a great deal this summer: learning more about themselves, deepening their passions and expanding their goals, and helping and connecting with others—all central to thriving in college, and beyond.