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Author: Rosalía M, Columbia University '24

Words are powerful. They can capture what we think, feel, and want. They describe our experiences, hopes, and dreams. They can help us share with others our inner thoughts and make complicated ideas easier to organize and understand. I believe there are words to describe everything except one phenomenon: the year 2020.

During 2020, we encountered an unprecedented global pandemic and saw the growth of revolutionary movements, advocating for human rights. Thus, 2020 became a turning point in my personal life, in which my previous thoughts of what I believed to be important (like having a physical high school graduation, being at prom or moving-into my dorm) and true (the stereotypes created by society) were challenged in different ways. For me, 2020 made me think about freedom and how much value it holds in my life. However, instead of teaching me what freedom is, it guided me through the process of understanding the difference between physical freedom - the ability to go to the outside world - and mental freedom -the ability to create my ideas. This year allowed me to redefine what I thought was “normal” and adapt to new ways of living and thinking.

In terms of physical freedom, I remember how suppressed and powerless I felt, especially between March and May of 2020, when the pandemic started to peak around the world. My memories of the past, instead of making me hopeful of the future, felt like bee stings, causing pain for every experience that was abruptly canceled. I wondered when everything would be over or restored to some form of normalcy.

In the same way, in late May 2020, people became more educated about the racial and social inequities experienced by Black people in the United States and the pervasive racism in our country. May served as a time for inspiration, education, and much needed societal wake-up call. It empowered me to challenge societal stereotypes and expectations based on race. I was able to regain my mental freedom. By becoming more knowledgeable, I broke free of society’s thoughts on how certain people are and I was able to redefine the world around me by myself.

Regardless of the thousands of words that exist, it is hard to describe the year 2020. Some people could describe it as “exciting,” or “saddening”. Others might say it has been “unpredictable,” while others might think it has been “too predictable.” The only way I could describe 2020 is with the word ‘changing.’ Not only was I able to live through one of the most devastating pandemics of modern times or witness a very powerful set of movements that took a stand for basic human rights, but my ways of living and thinking were challenged, forcing me to create new ideas of what matters in life. 2020 has taught me great lessons about the value of physical and mental freedom and how challenging these can help me better my life. I have learned about the power of extending love and kindness to others.

I might have been exempt from having a prom, physical graduation, and a typical beginning to my college life, but it still made me wonder whether or not those things are really important; I was still allowed to grow mentally and break free from societal ideas that held me back from creating my own.

We have experienced so many changes throughout the course of these past months. Some changes have been for the worst and others for the best. From now on, nothing will be the same. I still don’t know how to describe what 2020 has been like. While I find a better word that can describe the free wild ride that is 2020, this essay will remain Untitled.


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