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This essay won first prize ($1,000) in the East County Leadership Council (ECLC) 2021 COVID-19 essay contest. Prize money has been provided through the generosity of ECLC donors and a grant from the Foundation for Economic Justice.

By Anonymous Grossmont Union High School District (GUHSD) student in East County Leadership Council’s (ECLC) COVID-19 Essay Contest (First Prize)

“The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow.” —Robert Tew.

July 15, 2021 (San Diego's East County) -- Throughout our lifetime, we pass through so many different situations, some that make us smile and others that make us cry. We get rewarded by some, and we get challenged by others. What is interesting though is that we get to pick the way we react. We get to choose our life and shape it the way we want, despite our struggles, and if we do that right, we develop our strengths. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the United States, it was a struggle for everyone, and only the people who overcame their struggles came out of it stronger than ever. Personally, I had to overcome challenges academically since online school was extremely difficult, physically since my health was deteriorating as my weight increased, and mentally, since my mental health was worsening as well. However, although there were many challenges and struggles that came with COVID-19, there were also gains.  

Initially, there were lots of academic challenges I had during the pandemic. Not only was I struggling with getting the work done, I was also not in the right mindset or environment to study and complete my tasks as a student. It was so frustrating to finish assignments before the due dates and setting up an action plan at home to keep my grades up. With everything going on around me, I found it really hard to focus on my schoolwork. I have a big family, and coming from a Chaldean family, I was always busy at home. Working at home was a great obstacle I had to work around, especially because I have to share a room with my three sisters as a low income student and was struggling to even find a quiet environment to do my schoolwork, let alone find the time to do so.

My grades kept going lower and lower, especially since I had three AP courses as well as an honors math course in one quarter. It is important to note that I was not even used to the quarter system, so my big schedule change was also a challenge I had to overcome. Throughout the first quarter, I was failing all my classes up until the remaining two weeks prior to report cards coming out.

I was also involved in many clubs and felt like that was the only way to escape the stress that came from school and home, so they took up all of my time.  I knew I had to improve my time management skills, especially with tennis, school, AP tests, and clubs coming all at once in this weird setting that was completely new to me, but I just didn’t know how. And at that time, right before finals week, COVID-19 hit my single aunts who have no one except me and my sisters. I was the one to step up and help them out with everything during their two week quarantine, keeping social distancing rules as well. As stressful as that was, I had to do it for them while focusing on my schoolwork.

However, although I had many obstacles in front of me, I did not let that stop me from doing the best I can and giving it my all. I had to figure out how to manage my time in away where I could do all of those things and still live a content life, even in my crowded apartment with my big family. I tried my absolute best, spending sleepless nights and endless days to get straight As and maintain my GPA, which was the highest in my class, and, eventually, I did. I managed to keep my rank, which is number one in my school. So, although I did have academic challenges along the way, the Covid-19 pandemic taught me to discipline myself and manage my time so that I can be as productive as ever, even in the hardest of times. 

Moreover, my physical health was deteriorating, which was another challenge I went through during the COVID-19 pandemic. As time went by, my weight kept on increasing and accumulating to the point where I became susceptible to health issues like diabetes and obesity. I was devastated by this, and I did not really know what to do because my only happy place was the kitchen at that point. I was eating meal after meal without even realizing how much weight I was gaining. This was the worst experience of all. I was completely drained by the amount of damage I was doing to myself. After I heard my doctor say the words, “You are on the diabetic line,” I was shocked and terrified at the same time. For two weeks straight, my eating habits were completely messed up and I even think that I had developed an eating disorder. However, again, I did not let that bring my health down any more. I started making minimal lifestyle changes that led me to be a healthier version of myself. I still do have to watch my sugar intake, but as of right now, I am much healthier, and I think I am on track with my fitness goals and journey. 

Not only was my physical health affected, but so was my mental health. With all of the other shocks I was getting, mind you I have never gotten a B grade in my life, and I have always been on track with my weight. I developed severe anxiety and stress. I felt like my life was downgrading little by little, and that took a huge toll on my mental health. I refused to speak to my family or anyone about it, except my older sister, who helped me get through this hard time of my life. In the middle of the pandemic, I was contemplating my life, and I did not know what to do with myself. I had gained almost 50 pounds; I was failing, and I had developed really bad stress that just kept me eating more and doing less. However, with the help of my older sister, I overcame this challenge through journaling and planning every day out. I utilized my planner and journals to become the best version of myself, and I believe I succeeded and am now happier than ever! 

António Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations, once said, “We are in this together—and we will get through this together.” I believe that is the only thing that got me through this pandemic—knowing the fact that the whole world was going through the same thing that I was and hoping that it will end one day, and I will get back to the cheerful, optimistic person I used to be.

So although there were many challenges and struggles that came with COVID-19, there were also gains. I gained the skills of time management, problem solving, and decision making all at once. I also strengthened my dedication and commitment skills to be able to manifest my goals and achieve every single one. COVID-19 had me focusing on myself as well, after everything I had to go through, and I couldn’t have asked for more.

I am grateful for being healthy during this time period and also being able to achieve something from it. To me, the greatest solution to COVID-19 would just be to focus on yourself and find the good in life. Always speak to a trusted friend or family member when in doubt. Always try to make the best out of the situation, no matter how difficult it may seem. You are stronger than anything, and remember, with challenge comes change!

This essay won first prize in the East County Leadership Council (ECLC) 2021 COVID-19 essay contest. Prize money has been provided through the generosity of ECLC donors and a grant from the Foundation for Economic Justice.


Reprints of this essay must credit the author as follows: “First Prize Winner in the East County Leadership Council 2021 COVID-19 Essay Contest.”

©2021 East County Leadership Council. Reprint permission granted if attribution properly noted.


The other winning essays:



NEW NORMAL By: Merna Poulis


Originally published at: www.ecleadership.org

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Psalm 40:1,2

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimey pit out of the mud and mire he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.