Pandemic appears to strengthen friendships but weaken community

Ben Katznelson, Opinions Editor

In this unusual year, interpersonal relationships have changed in unprecedented ways. Personal relationships have been forced behind screens, friendships have proven more difficult to forge and maintain, and schools have been shuttered, yet for some students, the net result of all of this has been… positive? To a degree.
Ezra Bergson-Michelson ‘22 believes that his friendships have grown stronger as a result of quarantining. “I’ve been able to talk a lot more with people because there’s so much more time,” he said. “I think I’ve had some really positive strides in some of my friendships due to that.”
Bergson-Michelson, a resident of San Carlos, has been unable to see his Urban friends in person for nearly a year due to COVID-19. Not living in the city has rendered him quite cut off from the rest of the Urban community. However, the pandemic-driven increase in virtual communication has “enabled [him] to stay pretty close with people, regardless of distance, which has been the one nice thing about it.” Though he admits that “developing relationships… have kind of fallen off,” he has “definitely had closer friendships with [the people who he was already somewhat friends with] since the start of quarantine.”
“I definitely gained more knowledge about myself as a person,” said Elijah Sandler ‘22. Despite not “[doing] so much stuff with people from Urban,” his friendships are stronger as a result of the pandemic. “I don’t think I lost or drifted apart from too many people,” he said. “But I definitely got closer to a lot more.”
For Michael Schaezlein ‘22, interactions throughout the pandemic have been relatively stagnant. “I’m sort of doing the same things with the same people,” he said. “I’m interacting with less people but the people I’m interacting with more [are] more close.”
“Obviously it gets very frustrating talking to the same group of people, and then you sort of have to just like find other people to talk to,” Schaezlein said. “But I feel like I like having more quality conversations.”
Thomas Urey ‘21, one of Urban’s Co-Presidents, has noticed a similar shift in his friendships. “The inner circles have gotten closer, and the outer circle has moved away,” he said. “But I think that, in general, they haven’t shifted very much.”
Due to virtual learning, “I feel like everything has become a lot more stilted and formal and structured,” Urey said. “These new sort of Zoom relationships seem to be built more around some sort of goal or some sort of product…. there’s much less purposeless interaction.”
Elijah Leshnick ‘21, Urban’s other Co-President, agrees. “If we were in normal school, you pass [people] in the hallways. Maybe you see them at parties, and like, you’re hallway friends,” he said. Though Leshnick acknowledges a decrease in these informal interactions, he has also noticed a positive change in his core group of friends. “I’ve definitely gotten [to be] better friends with my good friends,” he said. “I’ve definitely improved my friendships and gotten closer with probably six or seven people over the last year.”
Similar to Sandler, Leshnick touched on the role that reflection has played in his ability to be a better friend during this time. He said, “[I’ve] had a lot of time of self reflection, so I’ve definitely reflected on myself as a person and as a friend. And after all that self reflection, I feel like my friendships have improved.”
For many individuals who have experienced in-person high school, the pandemic has been extremely challenging, but somewhat manageable. However, it has had an immense impact on current freshmen and their quest to make new friends at a new school. For Isaiah Moliga-Puletasi ‘24, pandemic social life has proven difficult.
“Not being able to meet people in person and see people in person was really difficult at first,” he said. “Coming into Urban, especially if you are coming in without knowing any people, [it is] really hard to connect with people virtually, especially when you’re in school all day.”
Such isolation has presented a challenge. “I think virtual [school] is taking a big toll on me. It definitely does make it harder to retain friendships and social groups,” Moliga-Puletasi said. Though he has successfully made friends, “you really have to go out of your way to do that, which I think is really difficult for me personally.”
Urey acknowledged the difficulty of welcoming the freshmen to their new school. “Thinking back to [the freshmen’s] ninth grade orientation, I think we definitely did a good job with that. But in terms of really bringing the ninth graders into the community, I feel like it’s missing that sort of natural transfer of culture and practice to the ninth graders,” he said.
Regardless of individual circumstances, it remains true that everyone is lacking the sense of community that in-person school provides. To fill this void, Urban’s Student Committee (StuCo) has made significant efforts to build community around the school despite the limitations of virtual learning. Leshnick elaborated on StuCo’s efforts to recultivate hallway friendships. “We’ve been trying to do that by putting up spaces where there’s sort of a free open dialogue between people, not one person talking at a time,” he said. “And people can kind of have normal conversations.”
However, he does admit that participation in such activities, as well as other school-wide events, has been inconsistent. “If you don’t want to go to something you just don’t open your computer, so it’s been kind of hard getting people to show up.” he said.
Urey reflected on the culture that virtual Urban lacks. “I think that the biggest thing that we’re missing out on is culture transfer through osmosis,” he said. “A lot of the main ways that a new grade is introduced into the Urban community is by just watching the older grades and the ways that they interact with the community and with each other.” Of course, virtual school makes such a transfer nearly impossible.
While this year may have left people with closer friendships than they once had, it also left many yearning for the aspects of community that are tough to feel through a screen. “Virtually it’s just hard to go to certain places in your friendship,” Moliga-Puletasi said. “You can really only go so far.”