(Photo courtesy of Ella Warner)

Creative Writing

Column: The C-word

High school junior, Ella Warner, explores the anxiety that comes with the college process, especially as a student whose high school experience has been almost entirely virtual.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/ellawarnerr/" target="_self">Ella Warner</a>

Ella Warner

March 4, 2022
The first week of my junior year was one of the scariest weeks I have experienced in my seventeen years on this earth. It was the first time I had been in a functioning school environment since halfway through my freshman year. Looking back on that week, I hated returning to a place I had known all too well pre-pandemic.

But here I was, same school, same people, just this time with masks covering our faces and no social skills whatsoever. Yet, we were expected to transition back into our pre-pandemic manner, despite the challenges the world was facing. 

My teacher, expressing her empathy toward the struggles of distance learning, slyly incorporated college into her talks of the future. A collective whimper came from the class and an audible gasp came from me. My teacher looked at me and I gave her the “please stop talking about this look.” Understanding my doe stare, she then declared college would be referred to as the C-word from now on. 

Being a first-generation student, I have always planned on going to college. As some students can relate, I want to make myself, and my family proud by seeking higher education — it has always been this way. But suddenly, the thought of college seemed less and less real. Although this is something most high schoolers experience, regardless of the pandemic, we have been handed a new deck of unmotivated cards. 

Ever since I was eight years old I have dreamed of going to college on the East Coast, and I am beyond grateful I can consider that opportunity. But, when my mom suggested we tour colleges in New England during a four-day weekend, I hesitantly said yes.

As appreciative as I was to be able to tour these prestigious schools, the thought of college was daunting — I still have yet to complete a year of in-person high school. My sense of time has been warped more than I can imagine. Sometimes I still feel like a freshman stuck in a junior’s body. 

When my family asked which schools I was most interested in touring, I replied with a simple remark — all I wanted to see was snow. There is something magical about snow, especially being a born and raised Los Angeleno. Especially how this frozen rain can drape a town with its sleek white tone and suddenly turns into a winter wonderland. Although this may seem stereotypical;  the sledding, snowball fights and hot cocoa seem too perfect to have missed out on the past seventeen years. 

I took a red-eye to Boston with my mom the second week of February, which as most New Englanders know, is a cold time to visit. We landed early in the morning and made our way to the first stop, Providence, RI, a city I am extremely familiar with, but wanted to revisit.

It was here I received my first taste of East Coast college life in the winter — cold and windy. Although the sun was still shining it was a whopping 39 degrees Fahrenheit and I felt my body and mind becoming completely numb.

At this point in my journey, I was figuring out what homework I had to finish, if it was going to snow and how long it would take to get to our next stop. I felt incapable of absorbing information. My mind was in a different place so I would label it as an act of avoidance. I still feel like I should have time to live out my high school life before hunkering down and researching colleges.

We arrived at our next stop — Middletown, Conn. — do not worry, I had not heard of this town either until I researched this school. However, I immediately felt immersed in the college culture.

The town was the college, no more, no less. I met with a current freshman at a local coffee shop and she told me her horror stories about applying to colleges mid-pandemic. Even though I felt mentally unprepared for my application journey, at least I did not have to be in her shoes.

But, her energy was incredibly positive, and she remained unphased by the coronavirus aspect of her college experience. Throughout our conversation, I wished I could wipe my worries away and absorb her mentality. 

My mom and I toured this school the following day, it was undoubtedly the coldest I had ever been in my life. It was almost embarrassing how we were reacting to this foreign feeling. It got to the point where the East Coast natives had to give us tips for conserving our warmth — tuck your hands in your armpits! Wear thicker socks next time! 

For the first half of the tour, I was focused on taking notes while preserving my heat and did not get the chance to absorb the campus until I felt the motion of flurries surrounding me, and I realized it began to snow. I could not help but let out a squeal of excitement. 

A family from New Hampshire looked at me strangely and let out a quick chuckle. I immediately reminded them that I am from Los Angeles and snow is foreign to me. But their remarks hardly stopped me from gazing above, watching the snowfall across the ancient buildings and rolling greens.

I will not lie, I was freezing, but at this moment I reconnected with New England, along with my new beginnings. This was a moment of regeneration, of hope, validating my ability to consider what the future has in store. This moment was my chance to let go, feel the beauty of nature and remind me that despite these challenges everything will be okay.

I am a superstitious person, but anyone who saw how the snow fell throughout the rest of my tour would consider it a sign. A sign allowing me to submerge from my freshman body and slowly accept this daunting reality. Even the family from New Hampshire thought so. 

The rest of my trip was filled with optimism, conversation with tour guides, and visualization — could I see myself in this town? With these people?

All the necessary factors were considered and I finally was able to tolerate this process for its purpose. I visited schools throughout Massachusetts, and ended my tour in the capital of Boston, with the snow following me each step of the way. 

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