East Students reflect on 2020

January 8, 2021

There’s no denying that 2020 took the world for a loop. Nearly every aspect of daily life was altered, and many individuals found themselves in an area of self improvement, or self destruction. As for the students at East, experiences varied. This package serves as a collection of student perspectives on the past year in many aspects of East student life, ranging from theater to athletics. Though this is merely a taste of some of the student body’s experiences, each student offers a different perspective.


Courtesy of Angelina Witting

Angelina Witting had a lot of time to reflect during 2020 and will never forget everything she learned.

Angelina Witting

How has 2020 changed me? This question has been dancing around my mind for a few days before writing this. I suppose my biggest trouble with this question is that I hate to give power to a year. Something that is really nothing. It is simply a collection of days, months, a number that we use to keep track of how many sunrises have happened, or how many orbits around the sun we’ve had. I don’t believe the year has changed me, rather the events within it. Even then, it’s the people who tend to have the greatest impact on me.
It’s no doubt that 2020 has been a year full of shock, heartache, and isolation. But, I find it interesting how each person who lived during this year was impacted, or changed in a different way. For me, 2020 taught me I was an introvert.
My whole life I was told I was an extrovert. For ages I was proclaimed the “life of the party”, which to be fair, I was. I enjoyed the spotlight, but for only so long. I slowly noticed myself growing tired, and irritable after a few hours of spending time with friends. Not to mention, if I was interacting with a stranger, my energy drained in minutes. Gradually, I found myself prioritizing alone time over hangouts with friends. But, this realization came as a relief to me. I no longer thought I was a bad person for getting sick of my friends after a few hours, or for wanting to skip a hangout. Thankfully, hangouts were few and far inbetween this year. Similarly, this discovery helped me through my eight weeks of quarantining as five of my family members had COVID. Believe me though, this perspective will not be all about my profound discovery that I am an introvert.
2020 taught me how to truly be grateful. There are so many different things in this world that people often take for granted: health, family, friends, and honestly just a daily routine. I know students around the world were shocked by how much they grew to miss their classrooms, myself included. But, as the year progressed, I learned to count my blessings and truly give thanks for everything I did have in my life, even if it wasn’t always perfect.
2020 taught me to stop letting opportunities pass me by. I used to pass up early morning plans for some extra sleep, but now, I jump at the chance to go see a beach sunrise. This concept has also helped me discover my love for early mornings and drives to the beach. There is something so peaceful and refreshing about waking up early, driving to the beach with one of my closest pals, and sitting on the beach, drinking coffee as the sun rises. An even more beautiful fact is that I realized my phone will never capture the awe of the sunrise. No matter what I try, my eyes will always see it better, and I think that is a greater message. Perhaps that message is sometimes you just need to experience things for yourself or maybe it’s that you can’t make everyone see the true beauty in something. Nevertheless, now I rarely pass up a chance for a last minute adventure.
2020 taught me that reading isn’t bad. For most of my life, I dreaded reading. However, this year I began to find books that actually sparked my interests and now I read almost everyday. It is refreshing to take a break from the technology and just sit outside and enjoy a good book.
2020 taught me that sometimes, it is better to help others over yourself. While I understand the importance of self-care, I have learned that personally, I feel a sense of fulfillment by helping those around me. There is something uplifting knowing that I am making somebody’s day better, just by giving them some time out of my day.
Finally, 2020 taught me that even in hard times, you can still learn and grow as a person. Furthermore, I have found that especially in these hard times, it was easier to grow and to evolve. You really learn a lot about yourself when put in undesirable situations and I think it is important to focus on self-reflection and look within yourself. If you see something in your life that you are unsatisfied with, what are you going to do to change it? People need to stop taking things lying down and start chasing their goals and the conditions they want for themselves. Sometimes this means letting go of friendships or relationships that no longer serve you any benefits, or maybe this means cutting out negative behaviors. Nevertheless, whatever it means for you, go chase it.
We all hope for a better 2021, and I’m with everyone on that, but sometimes I wonder if I still would have grown as much if 2020 hadn’t been as bad as it was. But, I guess I’ll never know.


Courtesy of Aiden Rood

Aiden Rood feels as if COVID has completely changed his life.

Aiden Rood

The past year has been one of change. Many of our experiences in 2020 have been unlike those of any other year, often in negative ways. Too many lives have been lost. More people than ever have struggled to obtain housing, healthcare, food, and other basic necessities. So much harm was caused, some unavoidable, but much brought about by soulless leaders acting against our best interests.

For me, these aspects of 2020 led to changes in the way I think about the world. I began 2020 interested in politics, with my ideology sitting somewhere on the left of center. I end it knowing that we need major systemic change and a reimagining of the way the government serves people.

This year, topics like universal healthcare and police funding stoked major controversy. A year ago, I probably would have told you that private insurance was worth protecting. I’d have been unsure about the issue of policing. In 2020, however, we’ve seen a pandemic destroy lives economically. From fears of medical bills preventing patients from seeking COVID-19 treatment to immoral evictions of people who cannot work, it’s more clear than ever that universal healthcare and other social and economic government reforms are badly needed. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others provide further evidence that systemic problems necessitate the dismantling and defunding of current police departments.

The past four years, and 2020 especially, have made very clear that electing a far right authoritarian like Donald Trump cannot occur if we are to ever succeed. However, rejecting Trump and the far-right will not get us nearly far enough. We need progressive change on issues like climate change, policing, healthcare, housing, and more as soon as possible. Really, we needed them years ago and our failure to implement such proposals has caused people to die and suffer.

With all of this in mind, 2020 has been a year in which I evolved in my beliefs significantly, but it’s also been something more. More than ever before, I began to take action this year. I am extremely lucky and privileged to be in the position I am. Working with a number of grassroots and campaigns and organizations, I’ve been able to do my part to make a difference. This year was a terrible one for our world, our country, and our people. We cannot let that tragedy fail to cause change. So when I think about how 2020 has affected me, one of a few big ways I’ve felt its impact is in this call to action. I hope more and more Americans will see the injustices pervasive in our society and recognize the need for positive political change after this year full of negative change.


Courtesy of Annie Behm

Unfortunately, COVID put a halt to Annie Behm’s final season as an East swimmer.

Annie Behm

COVID-19 has affected many aspects of life for everyone, and although there are several much bigger implications of a pandemic, one personal to myself and other students athletes is the uncertainty surrounding sports seasons. This year I was given the honor to be a captain for the East girls swim team, and it is also my fourth and final year with the team. Last year, we were fortunate enough to wrap up the season about two weeks before everything was put on pause to address the health crisis, but unfortunately we are not as lucky this time around. Swim season has been drastically reduced to less than a two month season with no state championship tournament or individual state meet. These changes present an obvious roadblock, but I think the most disappointing aspect of the situation is missing out on the little get-togethers and team aspects of the sport. Swimming is traditionally a very individual sport, but high school swimming presents a great opportunity to compete for something larger than yourself, as well as gain new friendships. Because of the pandemic, we are not able to have any pasta parties before our limited number of meets. This is especially important to our team because we do not practice together even in a normal year, so our time together will be more limited than usual. Despite this, we are still scheduled to begin our season in January, and our team is so excited to be able to compete in such uncertain times. There are so many people who have this situation much worse, and we are so fortunate to even have the opportunity to compete together.


Courtesy of Elliana Tonghini

COVID had a major impact on Elliana Tonghini’s ability to participate in sports.

Elliana Tonghini

Sports are an essential aspect of my life. They’re something that I can look forward to after long and stressful days at school and allow me to be surrounded by amazing teammates and coaches. With COVID-19, a big part of that was taken away, and while running is still something I can do on my own, it isn’t the same. Both winter and spring track provide different atmospheres right as you enter the locker room and turn out onto the basement floor. The amount of chaos going on with all of the sports teams is stressful, but in hindsight, it is something that I really miss. For track itself, COVID has had a different kind of impact. Running is something that you can still easily do outside of school, but East track is more than just running: it’s about the people that you are surrounded with. During practices, you spend so much time with your teammates and coaches that they begin to become important parts of your life. The conversations and discussions that are brought up during runs are of a wide variety of topics from schoolwork to life events and even the occasional comments on teachers. Looking back, that is something that I definitely took advantage of but am looking forward to when practices resume. When practices were initially put on hold, our coach had put out a schedule for us to follow until they were back on again. The schedule was relatively easy to follow because in the back of everyone’s mind, there was still going to be a season, but it would just be pushed back a bit. In the following months, as COVID began to ramp up, a season was becoming less and less likely.

Since I do not run cross country in the fall, it was extremely difficult for me to stay motivated to run. I played tennis in the fall, so at the time, I was not running with anyone. Yet as it is with most sports, being mentally strong takes precedence over physical strength. The only way that I was and am able to run is by thinking about my long-term personal goals. Along with being surrounded by amazing teammates and coaches, one of the main reasons I love running track is being able to see all of the hard work that I put in pay off in the long run. Whenever I feel like I’m losing motivation, or just don’t want to go out for a run in the sub-30 degree weather, I think about the results that I could get out of the training I put in, and it drives me to keep going. This not only benefits me but also the people around me. When I see that my teammates are also becoming less and less committed to running regularly, I use my own personal motivation as a motivating factor for them. This is the same for all the other girls on the team, and I think that is a big reason why our team is so tight-knit, because everyone wants the best for one another, even if we are competing against each other. I am extremely excited to see what is in store for our team in the next few months as I know that everyone, including myself, is excited to get back to being together as a team and racing again despite the setbacks from COVID.


Courtesy of Caitlin Cepeda

Caitlin Cepeda shares her experiences with COVID and the year 2020.

Caitlin Cepeda

Following East’s initial shutdown in March, my friends from the class of 2020 were disappointed to say the least. Some of the most highly anticipated events of the year were cancelled, such as prom, senior trip, and most notably for the thespians: our closing weekend of Legally Blonde. After a year without being in our home theater and then the premature conclusion of the school year, many of the graduating students felt like their senior year had been taken away from them.
Entering the 2020-21 school year, the Thespian Board really had no idea what to expect. Since the cancellation of the Spring Musical, One Acts Play and Film Festival, we really hadn’t had any opportunities to perform in almost six months. Both the production staff and the students weren’t exactly sure what we would do, but we knew we needed to put on shows.

Our first project at the beginning of the school year was creating an opportunity for the underclassmen to perform. Crimson Theater has always been an integral production because for the incoming freshmen, it’s their first introduction to East Theater. Getting new students involved is essential for the longevity of the department. Instead of a traditional straight play, we opted for livestreaming a two night cabaret showcasing D-Wing’s up and coming talent. This way, the freshmen and sophomores could collaborate with upperclassmen acting coaches without having to meet in person. I really love that the juniors and seniors get to bond with the younger kids; some of the best friendships come from Crimson Theater. I’m still super close to my acting coach from my freshman year, Allison Donahue, despite the fact that she graduated three years ago. Crimson Theater was very successful both in the quality of the performances and in recruiting new actors. We had lots of new freshmen and sophomores audition for our fall play, Clue, likely because of Crimson.

Clue was a very unique experience. Originally, we had planned on performing Macbeth this fall and everyone was really excited about it. East Drama hadn’t done a Shakespeare piece in five years and this one was going to be big. After the pandemic, plans for Macbeth scaled back further and further until finally, we realized that it wasn’t viable anymore. If we couldn’t do Macbeth justice by giving 110%, then we didn’t want to do it at all. Eventually, Mr. Gambino (or Gamz as we call him) found Clue. It was a radio play, something East had never done before, based on the 1985 film, based on the board game. Essentially, it was perfect for us – a farce meets murder mystery ensemble piece that was right up the senior class’ alley. We were lucky to have great weather this autumn, which allowed us to rehearse outside for the majority of the time. When the weather was bad, we rehearsed over Zoom or Google Meet. However, there was this amazing energy and rhythm we all felt when we were together in person. It’s hard to describe, but if you were to ask any of the cast members, I’m sure they would say the same thing. Rehearsing online just couldn’t compare to the electricity of being together. It was definitely something we had all missed. Again, Clue was very successful and a project we were all proud of.

Going into 2021, we’re looking forward to our spring musical, Little Shop of Horrors. We plan on pre-recording the performance and showing it as a drive in movie. I’m especially excited for Little Shop because it will be one of the first real opportunities this year for our stage crew to get involved. I know I’ve been itching to get back on the stage and start building, so I know the rest of the crew will be ecstatic to have a show to work on. Things are still very much in the works right now and we’ll continue to iron out kinks over the weeks to come, but I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with Little Shop.

I think I speak for the rest of the department in saying East Theater has been extremely fortunate. Not every high school has even had the opportunity to put on any shows at all. Clue was such a unique and fun opportunity for us, especially in a time when we all needed some kind of semblance of normalcy. Little Shop has me very hopeful. With the introduction of vaccines and a possible end in sight, I have a feeling my last mainstage at East will be a good one. At the very least, it’ll be a show to remember. Through everything, East Theater has continued to stick by our motto: Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere.


Courtesy of Crystal Yeh

Crystal Yeh’s first year of high school was ruined by COVID.

Crystal Yeh

From spirit days at school suddenly changing to pajama days at home, COVID-19 has definitely made itself a chapter in my life. While I’ve been blessed for my family to have the resources to stay safe, my heart goes out to the lives lost and the families impacted by the pandemic. Now, these past 10 months or so have really allowed me to grow as a person and learn more about the world around me. If I had to name this chapter, it would be “Turning Challenges into Opportunities”.

Going into my first year of high school virtually was not ideal, but being online forced me to make the first move and reach out to people first and I’ve met amazing friends that way. It is strange though, becoming close friends with someone over Google Meet who you’ve never actually met in person. I’d have to applaud the teachers, though, for learning how to use all this new technology and getting us into, sometimes awkward but always enjoyable, breakout rooms. Without the teachers and guidance counselors’ support, I definitely wouldn’t be staying on top of everything right now. Joining different clubs like SGA and Mock Trial has really provided me with fun and close-knit communities too. There are obviously challenges in leading certain clubs being that online communication is heavily relied on and that can bring a whole lot of other conflicts. However, they taught me how to improvise when an issue suddenly arises, adapt to new situations, and finally overcome these challenges. Since we’re all in the same position where we’re all susceptible to Wi-Fi issues, power outages, and whatnot, I’ve also learned patience and how to be a more understanding person. 2020 really marks the year in my mental health’s growth too. Sometimes staying away from friends is tough but spending some time alone has given me time to reflect upon myself and find ways to improve upon those reflections. Anti-racism has been and always will be a prevalent topic, and this pandemic also gave me the opportunity to educate myself and others on it. So that being said, we can end this chapter on 2020 and open it up to 2021 and all there is to come from it!


Courtesy of Jillian Koenig

Jillian Koenig never expected to start off her high school experience via online school.

Jillian Koenig

If there is one thing that there has been a lot of in 2020, it’s tears. Tears, along with lots of crying, disappointment, and frustration. 2020 was a really annoying year, honestly.

January and February were the only “normal” months of 2020 and I barely remember them. For me, the start of 2020 was March 13 because that’s when everything really started going downhill.

I remember March 13 so clearly and I know it’s a day that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. It was a normal Friday and everyone at school was hoping for it to get shut down after hearing that other schools all over the country were closing because of COVID-19.

I had math last and we had just heard that Cherry Hill schools were not going to be closing. Everyone was really mad because all they wanted was to do school from home. It’s funny how now all we’d rather do is get out of the house and go to school.

After school ended, I went home and made plans to hang out with my friends just like any other Friday. March 13 was also abnormally warm. I remember it was the first day in a long time that I could wear a T-shirt outside.

Later that night, I got a text from my mom with a screenshot of the Cherry Hill website saying that school would be closed for two weeks and we would return on March 30. Little did I know, that was just the start.

Long story short, two weeks turned into the rest of the year. If you told me this in March, I would have said that you were crazy.

During quarantine, I was ok with not returning to school because soon it would be summer and summer meant camp! 49 days in my absolute favorite place was almost here. Again, this was another lie.

April 30 is another day that I’m always going to remember because it was one of the saddest days of my life. I remember sitting in my bed watching Netflix and getting a call from my camp friends.

I answered the phone and as soon as I saw everyone crying, I knew exactly what had just happened. I pulled up the camp website and the giant words on the home page read, “It is with broken hearts that we share our plans to cancel all in-person activities held on our site for summer 2020.”

Although I didn’t want to believe it, I had known in the back of my mind all along that there was no way camp would be happening this year. The announcement was not much of a surprise.

I was so upset the rest of that day, but after a few days of being sad, I started getting over it. Every other camp started cancelling too and that made me feel better because I knew I wouldn’t be the only one going through this.

What I had expected to be the worst summer of my life wasn’t too bad at all. I was able to hang out with my friends (because none of them were at camp), go to the beach, go on vacation with my family, and make the most out of these weird times. The summer went by so quickly and before I knew it, school was starting again.

Starting high school all online was not an easy adjustment. While I would much rather be in person for school, I try to make the most of this situation. I can’t complain that I get to sleep two hours later!

After living through the brutal year of 2020, I’ve realized that if one thing is for sure, it’s that everyone is going through the same thing right now. After the multiple events of disappointment I experienced during the past few months, my parents always reminded me of one thing: “Everyone is going through the same thing. You’re not the only one”.

This made me feel a lot better because it’s much easier to get through something challenging if you have other people going through it with you.

While 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone and taken away so much, it has also given me beneficial things. With so much time at home, I got to spend a lot of extra time with my family which doesn’t usually happen. I also took time to focus on improving myself by trying new hobbies and catching up on sleep.

2020 has also given me the ability to make the most of a situation. For example, I wasn’t able to spend as much time with my friends during the pandemic, but I was able to spend quality time with my family, especially with my sister before she left for college.

I’ve learned from 2020 that there is going to be good and bad in every thing in life and what matters most is your perspective. I’m a glass-half-empty type of person, but I think 2020 has helped me to see the positive side of bad things and I’m grateful for that.

Overall, 2020 was a crazy year and something that nobody has ever experienced before. I have no clue when the world will return to normal but if there’s one thing that I do know it’s that I’m going to appreciate being able to wake up at 8:30 a.m. for school while it lasts!

COVID repeatedly takes away Emily Feketes ability to attend swim practice and meets.

Courtesy of Emily Fekete

COVID repeatedly takes away Emily Fekete’s ability to attend swim practice and meets.

Emily Fekete

February 22, 2020, was a date to remember, as the East Girls swim team won the State Championship for the first time in over 20 years. Shortly thereafter the entire world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This included swimming as well. Not being able to be in the pool and training on a daily basis with friends who are like family is something that as a swimmer, I was not prepared for as this has been my life and routine for years. Being out of the pool for a week impacts any swimmer’s physical and mental health. The months that I was not allowed to train were sad, scary, and lonely. While I have missed being in school, the time out of the pool and away from my team seemed like a punishment. Even when we were allowed to train with our club teams, recently that too was again impacted by the sudden rise in Covid cases. After working so hard to get back to where I was before the Pandemic hit and achieving the cuts I needed to swim at Junior Winter Nationals and Futures, that was yet again taken away by Covid and the travel bans.
By this point in the school year, we should have already had tryouts, practices, and meets, with the goal of defending our State Championship title. As I write this, it is still uncertain what this season will hold, if anything. More significant is the realization that I may never get to swim with some of my senior teammates again and that COVID may steal their final high school season. COVID has forced us to miss so much, as there have been no team lunches, secret psychers chosen, and no pasta parties. These events are almost as important as what we do in the pool and they are what we all look forward to coming into the swim season.
The one good thing that came out of this is a new level of appreciation for my team, coaches, and my sport as a whole. Coach Ricci has done her absolute best to keep us all connected during these unprecedented times and has been there living the frustration with us. The shared commitment of the girls on the team and our desire to get back into the pool together and bring East another State Championship has never wavered despite the pandemic. I can’t wait to be back in the pool and on deck with my teammates. Wear your mask and wash your hands!


Courtesy of Sophia Liu

Sophia Liu reflects on this year and everything she learned from COVID.

Sophia Liu

Around 365 days, 8760 hours, or 525,600 minutes ago, the world rang in a new year and a new decade. As the last seconds of 2019 ticked away and my family and I watched the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, I wondered what the new year would bring. I never could have guessed that in a matter of months, the entire world and life as I knew it, would be turned upside down.

Undoubtedly, 2020 was a year that tested the world’s resilience. Over one million lives were lost to COVID-19, millions of people lost their jobs, countless businesses had to close, and natural disasters caused devastation around the world. This year is one that will shape the future for years, even generations to come. Not only that, but the events of 2020 have affected and changed the lives of almost everyone. Personally, 2020 has given me a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude for the world around me, as well as hope and optimism for the future.

Back in March, as the pandemic took its toll on our everyday lives, many of the things I took for granted vanished in a blink of an eye. Although my troubles were relatively trivial compared to what many others were facing, they nevertheless left a lasting impact on me.

As the saying goes, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone”. When schools closed and my middle school years silently slipped away without much celebration or a formal graduation, I realized how important it is to appreciate and cherish every moment. Furthermore, adjusting to and experiencing online learning firsthand gave me a greater admiration for the teachers and staff of our schools.
This year also taught me about the strength and kindness of our community. Though it may have seemed as if 2020’s circumstances pushed everyone away from each other, I believe that in a way, the year’s events also brought our community closer together, metaphorically of course.

In hardships, our community, both locally and globally, came together for good causes. As the pandemic raged on, the world worked together to support those fighting for their lives against COVID-19, and the doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers keeping everyone safe. In the face of acts of racial injustice, people joined together in the Black Lives Matter movement, one of the largest movements in U.S. history, to strive and advocate for justice and equality. Additionally, on a local level, our town has strived to make the best of things for everyone and to find joy in difficult times, such as by organizing socially distanced trick or treating for Halloween and holding a holiday light competition for the winter holidays. This kindness and unity has greatly inspired me to seek out more ways to do good in the world, as well as to always look on the bright side of things.

So, as 2020 draws to a close and I once again find myself counting down the seconds to a new year, I will look towards 2021, not with pessimism or hesitancy, but with optimism and hope.


Courtesy of Naomi Bereketab

COVID has had a major impact on many peoples lives, unclosing Naomi Bereketab.

Naomi Bereketab

We’ve all heard it a million times: 2020 has been an awful year, full of unimaginable loss. Like everybody else, I’m extremely happy to enter 2021, even if a new year doesn’t mean that all our problems suddenly disappear. Call me superstitious, but I don’t ever want to be associated with this year again.
Missing out on my senior year and everything that comes with it has definitely been a blow, but honestly, I’ve gotten over it pretty easily. It’s hard to miss something you never really had in the first place. All pain is valid no matter the scale, but seeing people lose their lives really does give me perspective.
For me, what’s really been painful about this year is losing a lot of faith in humanity. Seeing people refuse to respect COVID-19 guidelines in any way, despite 1.89 million people dead worldwide. Nearly 2 million people will never get to see their loved ones again or simply get to live, but people can’t give up a huge New Years party. Seeing the government continuously providing insufficient support to people struggling during this economic time. Seeing the thinly veiled racism of so many come out during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, filled with microaggressions, gaslighting, and just blatant racism. Everything that we are witnessing day in and day out has made me question if there really are more good in this world than bad.
Insufficient government support, ignorance, and racism have always been a major part of American society; this year has simply brought it to the light. Ignorance truly can be bliss sometimes, but it’s important to move past the sting of the truth and regroup. Although turning on the news is very depressing, there is an upside: we have an opportunity to improve our world. The first step to a better future is recognizing that there are deep issues.
Even in the worst of times, I’ve still been unbelievably blessed. I enter 2021 grateful that all my loved ones are safe, praying for those who weren’t as fortunate, excited to graduate high school, and attend my dream college this year. I am ready to stay vigilant and focused on the issues plaguing our society. As shown by the “patriots” terrorizing the U.S. Capitol building in the name of defending the flawed status quo at the beginning of 2021, we have a long way to go.

Drew Greene

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