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The Arts’ Pandemic Pivot

By Camille

When Covid hit last March, ballet was the first thing in my life to be affected. I distinctly remember having tickets to see San Francisco Ballet perform on March 14th, a Saturday, and being so disappointed to find out earlier in the week that the performance had been postponed. At the time, I thought that this rain check was disappointing, but little did I know that soon after my whole life would come grinding to a halt. Next came the school closures and the suspension of ballet classes at my studio. As I watched many industries turn to Zoom, I saw that the arts were falling behind. My grandfather, a professional jazz pianist, was suddenly out of work, and I saw pleas from desperate artists flooding my Instagram feed every time I opened up my phone. My high school, which had a specialized arts program, came up short in funding for the next school year as a result of our major fundraising gala being switched to a virtual format. In short, the arts didn’t have the luxury of creating a semblance of normalcy in a virtual world. 

Over the past year, I’ve seen artists do what they do best: think creatively. By mid-April, I began to see videos popping up of dancers creating DIY home studio spaces. Soon after, many dance suppliers began creating small rectangles of flooring meant specifically for in-home space constraints. I had a lot of fun setting up my own in-home dance space, and I’m actually thinking about keeping it once life goes back to normal. The convenience of rolling out of bed and taking class is unparalleled, and I love being able to work through classes on YouTube at my own pace.

In the dance world, the next creative solution that was born was outdoor classes. I never thought ballet could be effectively done outdoors until I saw the tents my studio set up. Fully floored and outfitted with barres and lights, they almost resembled the studio experience I had grown so used to. In some ways they surpassed it, with the fresh air and lack of mirrors creating a new type of sensory experience.


As we get closer to seeing live performances as a reality again, I couldn’t be more excited to finally reschedule that San Francisco Ballet performance. As it turns out, it never really was canceled, just postponed for an extended chunk of time.

Unexpected Opportunities

By Camille

As I’m journeying through my gap year, I’m realizing that in life, opportunities have a strange way of showing up when you least expect them. In March of last year, I remember closing my computer and being hit with the realization that this was my last ever meeting with Marin Teen Girl, an organization that I had volunteered with throughout high school. I had grown to love the group of girls I worked with and the perfect balance of business and fun we achieved at each meeting. Little did I know that I’d soon make the decision to take a year off from school, and the opportunity for me to take on a leadership role within the organization would arise.
Marin Teen Girl was formed a couple years ago, when the Marin Women’s Commission (a body of my county’s local government) began to envision a women’s empowerment conference, created by girls, for girls. The overarching goal was to connect girls from all over the county, while presenting them with informative workshops and providing powerful examples of successful women. Since its inception, the annual conference has grown in both scope and popularity, with women such as Pamela Hamamoto, former ambassador to the UN in Geneva, serving as speakers.Attendees gathered for the keynote address in March 2019.
In past years, I’ve served on the committee of ambassadors who are responsible for organizing the event for around three hundred teen girls. The group of ambassadors handles everything from brainstorming workshop topics and contacting potential speakers to advertising and recruiting donations from local businesses. This is done with the support of the Marin Women’s Commission, but ultimately it is up to the ambassadors to successfully execute the event.
While serving on this group for multiple years, I’ve learned the ins and outs of what goes into planning the conference. With the new found time and flexibility my gap year has provided, I have been able to step up as co-leader of the ambassador committee and help guide the ambassadors through the planning stages.
When I accepted the role, I knew that this year was going to look unlike any other in the history of the conference. The pandemic has not only caused us to shift our planning meetings completely online but has also forced us to completely rethink the structure of the conference. Many key conference day experiences-such as goody bags and group lunch hour-are simply not feasible this year.
However, in the face of these challenges there has also been an overwhelming number of positive results coming from our need to adapt. Because a zoom event requires much less logistical planning, we made the decision to create a monthly speaker series leading up to the conference, allowing girls to attend more workshops than they would have in just one weekend. This began in November, and so far, we’ve been able to offer a female empowerment themed yoga class, a body positivity workshop, and a workshop centered around mindset and goal setting for the new year. Because of the online format for these workshops, we’ve reached a much more diverse population of girls than ever before.
Working with a small group of our ambassadors at a planning meeting


A promotional flyer for one of our workshops
Looking forward to the conference in March, we are currently in the final stages of selecting and reaching out to speakers. While the event will certainly look and feel much different, I think that many of the adaptations we’ve made this year will be carried over into future years. Even when an in-person event becomes feasible, the monthly zoom speaker series has proved to be a fun way to engage prospective attendees leading up to the event. While I am disappointed that we won’t be able to offer the conference experience I am used to, it feels good to know that working through the challenges we were faced with has led to some unexpected positivity.

Unpacking My Tutoring Experience

By Camille

A pre-work selfie!

I have had exactly one math tutoring session in my life, and I remember it in vivid detail. Sitting across the table from my tutor, I could feel the heat rising in my face as I struggled to answer one of the questions that he was posing. A million thoughts began to crowd my head: “I’m sure he has the answer in his head by now”…“He knows I’m here for help, so why is he letting me sit here for so long”…“I wonder if his other students can answer this”…“Why can’t I just figure out the operations I need to do to get the answer”. By this point, the storm of thoughts had made it virtually impossible to focus on the question at hand. As this whole saga was unfolding in my mind, my tutor stared at me from across the table, stone faced. I wasn’t used to being lost in math, actually quite the opposite. A year prior, I had made the decision to enroll in a pilot class that combined Algebra II and Pre-Calculus into one year. We sped through some of the curriculum, and I was left with holes that were beginning to show through in my Calculus class. These days, my mom and I laugh about that day all the time, reminiscing about the fact that I showed up at the car red as a beet, an unfortunate side effect of being in the hot seat. In the moment, however, I vowed that I would never go to another tutoring session again, even if that meant putting in ten extra hours to learn each concept on my own.

It is with this story in mind that I show up to Mathnasium every day. I have been working there since mid-July, doing both administrative tasks and a lot of teaching. While I tutor math that ranges from kindergarten all the way through Calculus, there is one common thread that runs through all my sessions: I never want the student to feel like they can’t tackle the concept at hand. This often means coming up with an alternate explanation when my first approach doesn’t work. Whether that means drawing a picture, using physical objects, graphing in Desmos, or showing a diagram off the internet, I strive to teach in a way that works for the student, using approaches that make them comfortable.

A peaceful morning doing prep work at the center.

I know from experience how frustrating it is to be lost, squirming in your seat when faced with an explanation that seems like code. I can imagine how that feeling could spiral into indifference for kids who experience it every day in class. I also know that many people write themselves off as bad at math when that’s not really true. The real issue is that they’ve never understood the concept in a way that clicked. It is incredibly rewarding for me to watch the transformation when my students realize that they don’t have to view themselves as inherently bad at math.



Coding 101

By Camille

Growing up as a member of Gen Z, I’ve been surrounded by the internet since birth. Unlike my grandparents, and even my parents, I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t just type, click, and be bombarded with a stream of answers. The onset of COVID has made technology and the internet even more relevant to daily life than I could have ever imagined. As I finished my senior year of high school from home, I began to realize just how mediocre my understanding of how it all works really is.

I decided to gain a basic understanding of what goes on behind the scenes of the hundreds of websites I’ve visited throughout my life. So, this past semester I’ve been immersed in a Web Development course through my local community college. In short, I’ve learned that things are a lot more complicated than they appear to the average user.

Studying CSS layouts

As I began to dive into the rules that govern HTML and CSS, I began to notice many similarities to my journey learning French. Instead of learning how to communicate in a foreign language with other humans, I was learning how to communicate my content and style desires to a computer. In both cases, the process begins with having to look up every other word, but eventually you start to build up a vocabulary and a comfort level.


A look inside my course notebook

While it was rewarding to stretch beyond my comfort zone, this semester was not without its frustrations. I had never realized the importance of a single semicolon or bracket until forgetting one and messing up my entire page, leading to a search through the code for the rogue punctuation. Working on assignments began to test not only my knowledge of the course material, but also my patience and organizational skills. By the end of the semester, I was able to pull together the things I’d learned to create a homepage for a fake travel organization that adapts to the device it’s being viewed on, whether that is a phone, tablet, or computer. As I turned in this final assignment, I felt a sense of relief that the whole thing came together without any major catastrophes, but also a hunger to go deeper into the intricacies of more complicated programming languages like Python and JavaScript.

The desktop version of my final webpage


Cultural Immersion From the Comfort of My Own Home

By Camille

The summer before I entered high school, my grandmother took me on a two-week trip to Paris. I had never been out of the United States before, and had only been out of California to visit my great grandmother in St. Louis. I eagerly packed my bags and couldn’t wait for the airplane to set off.

The minute we landed, I fell in love with Paris. I adored the Haussmann-style architecture, the small cafes that line the streets, the French pastries, the museums, the high fashion. We even found a taxidermy store that was featured in the movie “Midnight in Paris” tucked in the upper floor of a garden store. It is these unexpected treasures that make Paris so intriguing to me.

Me in a Parisian perfume shop during my 2016 trip.

After spending two weeks immersed in French culture, I decided I wanted to return to Paris one day, maybe even to live there. Prior to the vacation, I was all set to study Spanish as my foreign language in high school. This seemed to make the most sense since I live in California, but I discovered that my true passion was French.

As my quest to learn French evolved, this dream began to form in my head of studying abroad, either as a gap year or once in college (or both!). While travel is off the table for me this year, I knew that I wanted to use part of my new found time to further my language skills. I’ve done my best to create cultural immersion from home, with the help of an online French conversation class offered by my local community college.

The theme of the class is French cinema of the 20th century, and I have loved every minute of it (well, maybe not every minute, but more on that later). The teacher is French, and has a degree in film, meaning that she is very knowledgeable in terms of both film history and general French history. Everything we do is in French there is no English discussion- we meet weekly to discuss the previous week’s film in French, and then listen to the teacher lecture in French about the upcoming film for the following week. We go deep into the context, making, and content of each film. As part of her lecture, the teacher distributes a document that usually consists of around thirty pages of notes, links to extra interviews, and documentary clips. I never thought it possible for me to comprehend that much French, but I find myself having to look up less and less words. The class is scheduled for two hours every Thursday evening, but our discussions are often so lively that the class lasts close to three.

The most important part about this class for me has been the conversational aspect. This was always something I felt my French at school was lacking, and I developed a comfort zone rooted in reading and writing. This class for me has really been about stretching outside of these confines and just speaking, even if that means throwing in an English word here and there. It’s a very mixed-level class, which can definitely be uncomfortable at times. When you are placed in a breakout room to discuss certain aspects of the film for ten minutes with someone who is semi-fluent, it’s intimidating. The challenging part is being able to convey complex ideas in another language, often around topics that require more obscure vocabulary. I often have all these ideas swimming around in my head, but they’re English. It’s a constant game of translation, racking my brain for the right words. I would love to reach the point where this intermediate step doesn’t exist, where the thought just occurs in French. But while I’m on my way to that point, I’ve learned to just take a breath and jump in, remembering that every language learner shares in my struggles.


Experiencing an Empty Yosemite

As my family checked in at the front gates of Yosemite National Park, I began to realize that this was the start of a trip of a lifetime- an odd thing to say in the middle of a global pandemic that has practically shut down the travel industry. Assuming that we were entering the park early in the morning for day use, the ranger was happily surprised when my dad produced the confirmation papers for our camping reservation.  

“You won the lottery!” she exclaimed, explaining that due to COVID-19, only the Upper Pines campground was open, and only at half capacity. That meant that out of the hundreds of campsites spread throughout the park, only 119 families were able to keep their reservations. At that moment, it did feel as though we had won the lottery.   

In the absence of the congestion that 20,000 daily visitors usually cause, I felt like I was experiencing my own private park. Most of the time, masks and social distancing weren’t even required on the trails because the nearest person was out of sight. Parking lots that are normally full by 10am still had spots open late into the afternoon. Even the wildlife could tell that something was different this year, as we heard reports of bears walking around vacant buildings, searching for the people that normally inhabit them.  

On our second day there, we drove up a long, steep road to Glacier Point, an area of high elevation with trails that offer sweeping views of the park. On the recommendation of a ranger, we chose to hike to Sentinel Dome, a large, rocky peak that offers a 360-degree view of the Yosemite Valley, Half-Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan. At the peak, we encountered a ranger who urged us to close our eyes and listen to the wind rustling the leaves on the trees around us. She explained that this was a result of the park’s pandemic restrictions on the amount of people allowed to enter each day. Under normal circumstances, the constant clatter of the diesel busses trekking tourists around the park could be heard, but the pandemic had brought silence to the park. Standing on that dome, breathing in the fresh mountain air, I knew that this was a special opportunity. A chance to experience a Yosemite of the past, devoid of the marks of a bustling tourist industry. 

Later on, I learned that this was not the first time Yosemite has been touched by disease. The famous nature photographer Ansel Adams reportedly recovered from the 1919 Spanish Flu amongst Yosemite’s imposing mountains and towering trees. So while societal upheaval of this magnitude is new to us, it is certainly not new to this Earth.   

Standing on a bridge over the Merced River, I attempted to recreate one of Adams’ famous shots of Half Dome reflected in the clear stream below. Comparing the two versions of the same scenery, the landscape appears relatively unchanged. The park has survived one pandemic, and it will survive another, and probably many more after this one. As excited as I am for life to return back to “normal”, I do wish that Yosemite would remain as I experienced it this fall. 




Embracing My Artistic Side

By Camille

In my previous post, I mentioned that I had begun taking an online Adobe Illustrator course. I have now finished the class, and I wanted to share some of my pieces! Over the span of the course, each week we were given three assignments and a longer project to complete. By the end of the course I amassed a portfolio of work showcasing the different techniques we studied. 

I also wanted to use this post to highlight my progression! I’ve never really considered visual art to be my forte. This was highlighted by going to an arts high school, where we were separated by discipline. Admiring the work of the art students, I always considered the visual arts to be outside of my realm. Music and dance were always how I expressed myself. 

Going into my gap year, I set the goal of spending part of my time furthering the things I already love doing and using the rest to explore things outside of my comfort zone. This class definitely helped push me beyond my comfort zone and also allowed me to develop a new skill along the way. In school, I became wired to work towards concrete criteria that became familiar overtime. For this class, I was suddenly being evaluated on my use of perspective, incorporation of shadow, balance of tones and shades, artistic vision- concepts that were completely foreign at the start and seemed somewhat impossible to execute. 

To end the class, the task for our final was to design an imaginary world for a character to inhabit. The goal was to tie together much of the work we had done with character design, landscape, and typography. At first, I struggled with conceptualizing something imaginary that I wanted to work on. Perhaps more than ever, reality- and what it looks like today- has been at the forefront of my mind. After some deliberation, I decided to use the Blue Devil as my character and transport elements of reality to an imaginary location. My final piece features elements of Duke’s campus in space- a loose interpretation of things that really do exist. Besides being fun to make, it showed me how far I had come in a little over a month. Things that I had struggled with at first were second nature, and my work time had shortened dramatically. Looking forward to the future, I am excited to put the skills I have developed to use, as I now have the foundation needed to design posters, create business cards, and develop other versatile vector visuals. 

 Below is our very first assignment, where we learned to create basic shapes, and the two art boards I turned in for the final.

Thoughts on Perspective

By Camille

Without a traditional graduation and the end of senior year festivities that lead up to it, high school seemed to slip away. One day I was watching my teachers through my computer screen, and the next I woke up as a high school graduate. I had always thought of graduation as a magical rite of passage, the official transition into adulthood, but despite having decorated my cap and ironed my gown, I didn’t feel much different the day I picked up my diploma. I yearned for more time, the opportunity to thank my teachers in person, a chance to say goodbye to people I might never see again. In short, a different ending.  

With such an unexpected end to the year, it was easy to get caught up in the emotions that sudden change brings- fear, grief, uncertainty. It was also easy to wish for the sudden ability to time travel as a way of thwarting what was already unfolding. But all of those emotions were masking what was the most important thing that came out of this spring: gratitude. Instead of falling into the trap of thinking about what could have been, I began shifting my focus to what is. I began reflecting upon the great three full years I did have, the lessons I’d learned, the goals I’d reached, and all of the lasting memories I’d made. It wasn’t an overnight transition, but changing the way I viewed the unconventional last few months has made all the difference. In the end, it’s your perspective that matters. 

Looking forward to the year ahead, I couldn’t be more excited to have a chunk of time that I’m able to dedicate solely to my interests, both those that already exist and those that are yet to be discovered. Taking a gap year is something I’ve always had in the back of my mind, but the year I’ve planned looks almost nothing like the year I would have planned six months ago. I’ve had to be creative in my planning, which has stretched me to consider new local and virtual opportunities. 

This summer, one of the things I’ve had the most fun with is learning how to use Adobe Illustrator through an online community college class. I might not have explored graphic design this deeply otherwise, and this last month I’ve gained useful skills while really enjoying the process. While I’m not living out my dream of traveling the world, I am engaged in a different kind of exploration: an eternal one. Perspective is key.