Welcome to “Student View,” a new column featuring the thoughts, opinions, and musings of undergraduate writers at Cal. This spring, for our inaugural “Student View” essay contest, California asked current Cal students to answer the question: How has the pandemic changed you? Below is one of two runners-up. This issue’s winning essay was “The Seasons Still Change” by Annabelle Long, and the other runner-up was “The Power of ‘No’” by Camron King. For entry rules and other winners, visit the contest landing page.
Over the past 400+ days of the lockdown, I find myself looking up at and taking pictures of sunsets more than I used to. Perhaps it’s the beauty or the escapism. I look up and find so many things to appreciate, like the variety of colors and the position of clouds and the occasional airplanes or jets that pierce the sky, leaving behind only contrails. And over these past 400+ days of lockdown, I’ve amassed quite the collection of sunset pictures in my camera roll, a unique hodgepodge of purples, lavenders, pinks, oranges, and a splash of yellows.
At first, I thought taking pictures of the sunsets would be a nice activity to look forward to at the end of the day to pass the time during the initial two-week quarantine. But soon, two weeks turned into two months, and now, two semesters.
It’s been a unique experience documenting these sunsets. Because no two pictures ever look the same, regardless of the same angles and same exposures, I have a distinct memory associated with each one. The one I took on August 29, I was coming home from the grocery store and snapped a picture. The one from October 14 was when I had a midterm that went terribly. And the one I took on February 26, I had a really great phone call with friends I hadn’t called in a while.
It’s always interesting to look at pictures from different points in my life. I never really took a lot of pictures in high school probably because I was either too preoccupied or too self-conscious. I always viewed my everyday life as too boring to remember fully and told myself that I’d take pictures of the fun adventures that I would have in college. I’d have study sessions out on the Glade and hang out in San Francisco on the weekends, but instead, those dreams and ideas of what I thought freshman year was going to be like quickly disappeared. I’ve felt stuck in a weird limbo, my life paused—too old for childhood but not quite there for the grand adventure I hoped to have in college.
Instead, my freshman year consisted of waking up, attending Zoom classes, finishing assignments, and going to bed. The only highlights of my day were whenever my mom asked me to run a quick errand. A little taste of adventure.
I’d always take the long way home from the store, taking roads I never knew existed. I loved this element of surprise, of not knowing where I was going or where I would end up as a slight breeze blew past me while listening to my favorite music. The little things, like smelling the fries from the local Chick-fil-A and hearing the marching band play as I drove past my old high school, reminded me that my life right now is something I’m never going to get back, and I might as well make the most of it.
Over the past year, I learned about slowing down and observing. There’s something beautiful about observing mundane things; it teaches you to be comfortable with the stillness of everyday life. My freshman year certainly wasn’t full of the adventures I had hoped for, but it helped remind me to cherish every moment I have while at home. I’ve come to realize that taking pictures of the small moments, especially those sunsets, is worthwhile too.
Shreya Ramesh is a freshman from Atlanta studying bioengineering and business who hopes to use her skills as a researcher and as a writer to promote equitable access to healthcare.