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Getting the Cold Shoulder

October 14, 2022 at 4:00:00 PM

Greta Lawler '23

I’ve been getting a lot of laughs out of this proclamation, but I truly believe contracting COVID was a life-changing experience. After five years of perfect health and nearly perfect attendance in school, ten days of medical leave finally gave me the space to step back and see that the expectations I’d built for myself were far more flexible than I had previously thought. I’m incredibly grateful for the compassion I received from my teachers and friends and their imperatives to rest and recover before worrying about life back at school.

Meanwhile, back on campus, it seemed that everyone I talked to was hacking up lungs, plowing through boxes of tissues, and trying to temper headaches with Tylenol. Unlike me, however, they were also attending class, PGA, dinners, and club meetings through it all.

On top of the normal societal pressures to push through physical and mental ailments, many students in a boarding school environment are not yet adept at identifying that these ailments even exist. Without my mom to point out my low energy and feverish gaze, I was easily able to convince myself COVID symptoms were simply a bad case of allergies. For years, our parents were the ones who told us throwing up at 6pm meant we shouldn’t go to school the next day and determined how red our throats needed to be before they scheduled a doctor’s appointment. Alone at boarding school, when it seems like life isn’t going to slow down for you, it can be easy to push through sickness rather than face the consequences of pressing pause, including attendance points and missed assignments.

Mercersburg sent out an email to students’ parents this past week regarding attendance policies. Bottom line: missing class is unacceptable. While I agree that this is important for students to understand, I also think the school should consider introducing a new policy that would allow students the opportunity to choose up to one day per term, with the approval of their adviser, when rest would have significant benefits to their physical or mental wellbeing, and receive a student health day. A student health day would entail a full day of rest–no classes, no PGA, and no evening commitments.

While students are currently allowed to check into the Rutherford Health and Wellness Center at all times for any physical or mental health need, for many students, a stay at the Health and Wellness Center only increases their stress and discomfort. Students need the space to learn to make smart, informed decisions about their own well-being.

It shouldn’t take COVID to realize completing homework is not a life-or-death situation. Evening commitments can be missed. Tours can be declined. High school, despite its relentless pace, is ultimately not a matter of any real urgency, and one’s health, both physical and mental, should always come first.

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