2024 Winning Scholarship Essay: The Unforeseen Journey: Online Learning and Its Impact on My Educational Experience

Karen Butterfield
Karen Butterfield
A student at a laptop

The Unforeseen Journey: Online Learning and Its Impact on My Educational Experience

By Dylan Jiddou, Winner of the 2024 YuJa Scholarship Essay Contest

In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, the world as we knew it came to an abrupt halt. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us into lockdown, and our schools soon became empty. The excitement of seeing my peers every day in a face-to-face learning environment was replaced by the cold, impersonal screens of online classes. This transition was not only difficult for me and my peers, but also for millions of others across the globe going through the same, unexpected changes.

The Sophomore Struggle: Navigating Online Learning During COVID-19A photo of Dylan Jiddou

The shift to online learning during the pandemic was a big change. Talking with friends between classes, participating in classroom discussions, and extracurricular activities were all put on hold. Instead, we found ourselves isolated, each in our own homes, staring at our computer screens for several hours a day. The initial excitement of a change to online classes and time away from school quickly wore off, and was replaced by a sense of boredom and monotony.

Online classes lacked the structure and engagement of in-person classrooms. The constant technical issues, the impersonal nature of virtual classes, and the overwhelming feeling of isolation took a toll on my motivation and especially my mental health. At times, I found it really hard to concentrate, and my usual hunger for learning was gone. My study habits declined, as I struggled to adapt to this new mode of learning, and my grades started to suffer as a result. I was not alone in this struggle, as online learning had a similar effect on some of my friends and classmates, which only added to the collective feeling of depression and hopelessness.

A Senior Year of Resilience: Battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Just as the world had finally started to go back to “normal”, my personal journey took another unexpected turn. In the fall of my senior year, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The diagnosis was a devastating blow, and the following months were a series of doctor appointments, chemotherapy sessions, and radiation treatments. With my newly weakened immune system, my doctors told me that attending school in person was completely out of the question, and I found myself back out of the classrooms, and back into the world of online learning.

Returning to online classes under these circumstances was especially challenging. The memories of my sophomore year struggles weighed heavily on my mind, and the thought of missing out on the high school senior year experience took a toll on me. While my friends attended prom, participated in senior activities, and celebrated their final year of high school, I was stuck in my house battling cancer and trying to find a light at the end of this dark tunnel of isolation and online schooling.

Finding Strength in Adversity

Despite these challenges, I was determined not to let my circumstances ruin my high school experience. I found a new approach to attack my senior year with a renewed sense of purpose and resilience. I knew that maintaining a positive outlook and staying focused on my academics were crucial not only for my own personal educational goals, but especially for the sake of my mental health.

I began to follow a specific daily routine, which included setting specific times for attending virtual classes, completing assignments, and studying. This routine helped me create some sense of normalcy and control in the chaos of my illness and treatment. I also utilized different online resources and tools to help improve my learning experience, such as educational websites, virtual study groups, and many YouTube videos. These resources provided me with the additional support that I needed and helped me understand hard subjects more effectively. I also made an effort to actively participate in virtual class discussions and reach out to my teachers for help when needed. Their support and understanding meant a lot to me, and their encouragement motivated me to keep fighting.

Thriving Against the Odds

My hard work and determination paid off. Despite the numerous obstacles I faced, I excelled in my academics, finishing my senior year with an impressive 4.5 GPA. This achievement was a testament to my resilience and commitment to my education no matter what I am going through. It also brought my cumulative high school GPA to a 4.38, which is a reflection of my consistent mindset to strive for academic excellence, especially when faced with adversity.

Looking back, my journey through online learning during these challenging times has helped improve my learning style, study habits, and overall academic performance. It taught me the importance of versatility, self-discipline, and perseverance. I learned to be proactive in reaching out for various resources and support, to stay organized and focused, and to have a positive mindset even when faced with seemingly impossible challenges.

Inspiring Others Through My Experience

Over the past year, I have been working as president of my own non-profit organization, MDOS (Metro Detroit Operation Smile), in order to help young adults like myself going through life threatening illnesses. Recently, I have been working on an app that allows young adults going through these illnesses to talk to one another, as I was able to see first-hand just how special it would have been to be able to talk with another person my age who was going through the same struggle. I have actually spoken with Beaumont Health about my app, who said that they would love to use it once we finish its development. My hope is that my app will help others not feel as lonely as I did during this tough time in their lives.

In retrospect, I am very thankful for all of my experiences with online learning, particularly during my battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which has given me a unique perspective on the importance of resilience and staying positive. It has shown me that with determination and a positive outlook, it is possible to overcome even the most challenging obstacles. I hope that my story can inspire others who are facing their own challenges, whether in their educational journeys or in other aspects of their lives.


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