“With the change to quadmesters, the amount of work was overwhelming”

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Jasper Khan, 17

School: St. Francis Xavier Secondary School
Neighbourhood: Mississauga
What’s next: Health sciences at Queen’s

Life was good before the pandemic. I was in a few extracurriculars at school, like the science club, an environmental club called the Eco Warriors and the Gay Straight Alliance. My friends and I would hang out at lunch, and after school, we’d do our homework at each others’ houses or go to Square One to get something to eat. Once a week, I’d meet with the New Youth Council, which is run by the museums in the city of Mississauga. We’d plan activities and run donation drives.

At the start of the pandemic, when the province announced a three-week March Break, I was excited at first. I thought I could just hang out with my friends. But then the restrictions were put in place. And once virtual schooling started, I was not a fan. I’ve struggled with my mental health, and Covid made things worse. I had no appetite, no energy and trouble sleeping. There were a lot of days where I wanted to stay in bed. I was also a lot more irritable with my family. Small things would set me off, like my older brother not cleaning up after himself or my younger brother being loud while gaming with his friends.

With the change to quadmesters, the amount of work was overwhelming. And once Grade 12 started, I had the added pressure of applying to universities. I couldn’t focus on my homework, and my attention span seemed non-existent. I missed a lot of deadlines, but my teachers were super understanding. There were nights when I stayed up worrying about an assignment, how I had done on a recent test or whether I would get any offers from universities. I managed to maintain 90s in all my classes, but it was much harder to do so. I applied to six post-secondary programs for science and nursing. I spent most of my weekends doing schoolwork so I could be caught up before Monday came and even more work was assigned. There were a lot of days where I missed class because I didn’t have the energy, or I knew that even if I did attend, I wouldn’t be able to focus.

I found ways to manage my stress. I FaceTimed with my friends a lot. One time, I was stressed out about an end-of-quad assignment that was worth 30 per cent of my final grade. All of our outstanding assignments were also due that day. So I video-called my friends and we had a study session, which helped. Another time, I had a big chemistry assignment due that I had barely started. I spent most of the night working on it and slept only two or three hours. I somehow managed to hand it in a minute before the deadline.

Sometimes I’d call a friend and we’d do our homework over the phone or play Minecraft or just talk about life. Everyone was having a tough time with the pandemic, and it was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one. I have a German shepherd–Rottweiler mix named Chappo, and walking him every day helped, too.

I tried some techniques to manage my time better. I scheduled blocks during the day to do my work or put my phone in another room so I wasn’t distracted by it. I’d also schedule blocks of time to do anything other than work, like embroidery, drawing or playing guitar. I just had to make sure I got enough rest and ate enough. Back when restrictions were looser in early spring, I called a friend and we got brunch, went to the mall and got bubble tea, then watched a movie. It was a really good day. It made me feel better about the future. I realized that whatever happened with school or the pandemic, I would be okay, I would get through it.

A few of my clubs went online, and it was nice to connect with my classmates virtually. I’d join the Gay Straight Alliance meetings a couple of times a month, and we’d talk about things like queer representation in the media or queer-and-transphobia in school spaces. The New Youth Council went online too. I heard that long-term care homes were hit hard by Covid, so I came up with an idea to organize a holiday card drive. We got 400 handmade cards that people sent in to long-term care residents in Mississauga. In May, we organized a virtual art fair and showcased art made by youth on the city of Mississauga website.

Before the pandemic, I was leaning toward studying science in university. Once the pandemic hit, I knew I wanted to study health sciences or nursing. I saw how important health care workers were throughout this crisis. My dad is from India, and lot of my relatives back there were affected by Covid. About 20 close relatives got it, and four have died from it. I have a pretty rocky relationship with most of my extended family, due to my identity as a queer person. I came out in the summer of 2017, just before I entered Grade 9. But I do have a few relatives I’m close with, and I’ve been preoccupied thinking about them. I’m also worried for my dad. He’s lost a lot of family and friends in the past year and a half.

 

I’m looking forward to doing something where I can have an impact and help other people. I decided to study health sciences at Queen’s in September. I’m hoping to go on to med school and become an oncologist.


—As told to Andrea Yu