ZOOMING AWAY: In quarantine, senior realizes the value of community

When I was a freshman, the best thing about the Octagon was writing stories.

The power to spread my ideas across an entire community was riveting. If I cared about something, from the latest Marvel movie to the impact of a fire, I could share the story with students, faculty and family — the people closest to me. 

During my first year on staff, I wrote a My Angle about the shortcomings of our Life Skills class; when I talked to students in later years, it seemed the class had changed. That was amazing. 

I believed the most valuable aspect of the paper was our power to enact change, from adapting Country Day’s lunch program to shining light on the harmful effects of a common international student company. 

When I was a sophomore, the best thing about the Octagon was reading stories. 

I became a page editor, and one of my responsibilities was proofreading the stories on my page. Through both my endless referencing of the Associated Press Stylebook and my (forced) reading of many excellent stories, I became a stronger writer. 

Moreover, I now knew a story’s content before it was published, allowing me to suggest what voices could be added. I reveled in making corrections and seeing stories transform.

When I was a junior, the best thing about the Octagon was designing pages.

Finding the perfect combination of headlines, photos, graphics, captions, advertisements and body text was like solving the world’s greatest puzzle. I loved every page, but especially those allowing me to be truly creative, adding graphics or cut-outs or different fonts. 

But when I became a senior, I wasn’t sure what the best part of the Octagon was.

I still enjoyed writing, reading and designing pages. I was and am grateful to help staffers, both new and old, expand their skills on the publication. But was there a single best element of every hour I spent on the Octagon? No, I thought. It was all good.

Yet a few weeks ago, reflecting on our first paste-up (the week during which we design pages) away from campus, I felt dissatisfied — and I wondered why. The issue looked great. All our stories were timely, well-written and interesting. We even finished before 2 a.m.

Though I was thousands of miles away at home in the Netherlands, I did everything I once considered the best part of my job — writing and reading stories and designing pages. I should have been jumping for joy as I scrolled through the facsimile pages on the Octagon’s website.

Then, I realized what I didn’t experience that issue.

The end-of-paste-up dance party to “Ravers Fantasy.” The surprise visits from Larkin’s dog, Carrie, and Arijit’s subsequent attempts to return the dog’s “call of the wild.” Emma’s TikTok dances. Blasting music ranging from “Promiscuous” to “Binary Sunset.” A week-long diet of pizza and Sour Patch Kids. Curses hurled at InDesign, Photoshop or God. 

Those things were gone, and I’ll never experience them again.

In quarantine, I discovered the truly best part of the Octagon: the people.

I joined the Octagon to report on the events affecting our community and to shape what kind of school I attended. Those goals remain crucial to me. 

But I stayed on the Octagon because it allowed me to grow close to people who inspired, amused and challenged me — people whom I consider my closest friends today. 

What’s true about this wonderful publication also applies to Country Day as a whole. 

I joined this community because of the excellent academic offerings and its talented, committed faculty. 

But I also dragged my 20-pound roller backpack across the quad every morning so I could hear Mr. Wells read one more poem. So I could fish one more Kit Kat out of Dr. Whited’s brain-shaped jar. So I could taste one more of Ms. Melinson’s homemade brownies at Book Club. So I could gather with the people I care most about for one more hour during one more day. 

Country Day isn’t perfect. Last year, Octagon co-editor-in-chief Allison Zhang, ’19, called for more diverse backgrounds in our faculty and better resources for our arts departments. It saddens me to say our award-winning orchestra, choir, chamber group and band are still practicing in the same tiny music room. We can still improve mental health awareness, school spirit and the number of murals on our empty walls. 

But for now, Country Day has shaped us into good readers, writers, thinkers, inquirers, communicators and risk-takers. More importantly, it’s shaped us into pretty good people, and that’s all thanks to every faculty member, student, relative and alum reading these words. You molded this community into what it is today. 

Thank you

—By Héloïse Schep

Originally published in the May 26 edition of The Octagon.