Ashley Zigler: Finding joy in uncertainty

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One of the places Ashley finds her joy and energy in quarantine is on walks with her dogs. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Zigler)

Sequoia Wyckoff, Features Editor

On Wednesday, I got a letter in the mail – a card from junior Ashley Zigler, in big flair-pen handwriting. On the back was a printed out meme about the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen, a cooking YouTube Channel she loves. I laughed out loud – somehow, even in quarantine and amidst all the uncertainty, Ashley Zigler hadn’t changed a bit.

Coronavirus precautions didn’t go easy on Ashley – they turned upside down big plans for the next few important months of her junior year. “I had my calendar filled up with all my upcoming things, and I had to erase everything,” she said. 

On the last day of lacrosse practice, she was named Varsity captain. A few days into the school closure, she was accepted into Virginia Girls State, a competitive summer program centered around leadership and civic engagement, which was soon after cancelled. She had Spring Break college visits planned, all called off.

But still – unsurprisingly, for anyone who knows Ashley – she’s trying to play with the hand she’s been dealt, learning to adapt to her reimagined junior year, and keeping her energy up along the way.

Ashley is loud and friendly, and skilled at drawing the same energy out of her classmates. “I’m really social. I always wave to people and say hi,” she said.

Instead of sitting at the back table with her friends for English discussions, one of her favorite parts of her junior year classes, this is Ashley’s new view for English class. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Zigler)

Instead of being able to participate and joke around, in online conferences she doesn’t get to interact with her classmates. “I swear people fake not having their mics on in Spanish,” she said, laughing. “Only like 12 show up out of 22 students, and recently [Spanish teacher Mrs. Larisch] has been wanting us to answer back and all of a sudden you can see kids’ mics turn off, and I’m the only one talking to her.”

The closest she gets to the collaboration she loved in school is group chats for some of her classes – the highlight of slow, independent assignment-based classes like IB Biology. “For Bio, we have a group chat and we’re constantly asking each other questions,” she explained. She appreciates the chance to engage and talk to her friends in whatever way she can.

But when she’s “at school,” in her own house or her yard, she doesn’t feel like it’s her junior year, but rather that she’s doing summer work. “It’s crazy,” Ashley told me, sighing. “It’s like I have a new set of cards and I didn’t finish playing my old ones.”

“We didn’t have the time to sit in the junior alcove and then that last week go sit in the senior alcove, and have that transition from junior to senior year,” she said. Now, with this abrupt end to in person junior year classes, senior year and her college search are suddenly feeling real for her.

Ashley is one of many juniors struggling with cancelled exams, SATs, and college visits. “I just don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said, visibly nervous about the loss of such a pivotal period in the college admissions process. “Now my only option is the virtual tours, like, here’s a PDF on what it’s like to live at Virginia Tech. I don’t think I’ll be able to visit now before applying.”

And somehow, despite all these pressures and disappointments, she’s still energetic and positive. For now, she’s taking it one day at a time, and appreciating what she does have. She told me about all the things she has loved doing for the past month.

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With in-person instruction cancelled, Ashley now enjoys doing classwork from her bed. Photo courtesy of Ashley Zigler.

“Well, at the start of quarantine, I started Criminal Minds. It took me like five days to get to Season 3,” she confesses, grinning. 

She then listed hobby after hobby she’s tried out. She’s been making a rug. She watches, of course, Bon Appetit cooking videos, which have inspired her to cook elaborate meals for her family, each based on a country or region. 

She’s learning “Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles on the guitar, in place of the Harry Styles concert she was looking forward to going to. She’s begun bullet journaling, creating art spreads for each of her favorite music albums: “It’s the one thing that can keep me sane.”

Ashley had big plans. She didn’t expect to spend spring of junior year sitting in her house listening to her favorite album (Heartbreak Weather by Niall Horan) on repeat and looking at her classmates’ names next to their “mute” symbol on Schoology.

But she’s still Ashley, and she’s still making people (myself included) laugh. So she’s working with what she’s got.