‘Theater kid’ misses life before COVID


A crushing heartbreak for the theater department was the March 13 cancelation of Matilda. Junior Nate Baesel is on the floor while (from left) Madeline Lange, Haley Cronin, Ryder Tucker, and Allie Jeha play their roles as bullying school children. Ryder said that locking down right before opening night was hard for freshmen who were just gaining momentum in theater arts. Photo courtesy of Ryder Tucker.

Lamya Saade and Jameson Oates

Next week is the one-year anniversary. It’s been one year since all events became labeled “Before COVID” or “Since COVID.”
Before COVID we connected with our teachers. Before COVID we laughed with friends. Since COVID I haven’t been able to be really happy.
We at the Tribe Tribune have talked with students about their struggles, but our conversation with sophomore Ryder Tucker was special. Here is a student who was actually happy to be a freshman last year. She was thriving in school and becoming involved in the FUHS theater department. Then it was all ripped from her on March 13, 2020. Her story is both unique and universal. At every turn there’s been loss. She’s struggled to feel proud of herself. And she just hopes she can find herself again.
Here is an excerpt of our conversation over Zoom.

Tell us about junior high and coming to Fullerton?

I went to Buena Park Junior High. To put it in the simplest terms, I was bullied really bad and they were not the kids I wanted to spend the next four years with. So [my family] got me in at Fullerton. Last year I really enjoyed the theater program. I did both shows last year. I took the opportunity to do anything for that program, and I still do love theater. I was in a couple honors classes. But, I think everything kind of shifted when I went to distance learning. Everything just became so much more difficult. In middle school, I had tried a version of homeschool because the bullying had gotten so bad but [homeschool] just didn’t work for me. We learned that I cannot learn over the computer and I’m one of those people who needs to be in person and needs a teacher. So when distance learning happened it was like ‘Oh God no’ because we had already figured out I was not good at that.

The cast of The Girl in the White Pinafore and tech crew students welcomed 8th graders who were planning on enrolling at FUHS last year. Since having to follow COVID restrictions, Ryder Tucker has especially missed interacting with upperclassmen. Photo courtesy of Ryder Tucker.

You mentioned theater. How has that helped you have a better high school experience?

It’s helped a lot. I think there’s a big social part of theater that people don’t really know about. When you spend so much of your time with a group of people you start to feel very comfortable around them. I had rehearsals so many times for so many days in a row that I was pretty much only at home to go to bed, wake up for school, and do a bit of homework. But usually I was at school, rehearsing lines or running scenes. It was just that community that made me feel really safe. I spent a lot of time around them and in a way, being without them for so long, it really does stuff to your mental health. And all the seniors from the theater department graduated, and I find myself really missing them because I never really got to say goodbye to them.

Now that theater plays a less prominent role, how has your life changed?

Oh, it’s been crazy different. I mean we still try to do these Zoom-related shows, but obviously people (A) don’t really want to attend those, and (B) it feels like you don’t really have that connection that you used to have to theater. We are still acting, which is amazing, but it’s so much harder through a screen. Another big thing is I’ve learned I have a lot of free time now. I used to have rehearsals from 3:30 to 6:30 and I would go home and eat dinner, finish homework, and it would be 9 p.m. and I’d go to bed exhausted. And I don’t have that feeling anymore. Like I get out of school at 1:30 and I’m just completely free until 7:47 the next day. And it’s almost scary to have that much free time, like my brain doesn’t really know what to do with it. So as a result I find myself going ‘you should be doing things more productively’ but then I don’t want to do the productive things because I’m in my bedroom at home 24/7. So I miss the idea of having something to do.

I feel like that’s probably how most students feel, too. Going back to the friends and social connections aspect, are you still connected with the same people you were before distance learning?

Definitely not. There’s been a definite shift in the people I talk to, and I’m not entirely sure if that’s just what happens when you grow up, but I mean I was friends with a lot of upperclassmen last year and I’m not really friends with those people anymore. There’s no break time to interact with people who are in your classes.

Silly but important bonding activities like Spirit Week’s Twin Day have been lost during COVID restrictions. Ryder (left) is pictured with sophomore Sophia Galvan during their freshman year. Photo courtesy of Ryder Tucker.

Has not having those classmates and discussions made getting work done more difficult? Because I know having breaks to talk to classmates can be refreshing. Does sitting on Zoom all the time deplete your motivation?

While I wouldn’t call myself a chatterbox, I’m one of those people while doing assignments I will turn and talk to somebody I don’t normally talk to. And that was something I loved about class, that I’m a theater kid and the kid in front of me plays baseball but we can both talk to each other because we’re in this class together. And that was something I always loved, and I can’t really do that anymore, because a teacher will just give you an assignment and you’ll sit there with your camera and mic off and you have to do it. I find myself not really doing the assignment because there’s nobody there to tell me to do it. We have GoGuardian so sometimes I’ll tell myself ‘oh they can see me, I should do it,’ but I find myself a lot of the time not necessarily testing the waters, but more so knowing they can’t really do anything. That feeling of wanting to do good to impress your teacher, I don’t really feel that anymore. Everything is over a screen and it’s this dulled out feeling that they’re people. Like I know they’re people and teachers have full, complete lives, but it doesn’t really feel like that. It just feels like they’re more people behind a screen giving me even more assignments.

Has this affected your grades compared to last year?

Definitely. I wouldn’t have called myself a straight A student last year because, hello, I was a theater kid who spent all her time on a stage and probably should have paid more attention to her work. But I had As and Bs. I had honors classes and I wasn’t failing anything. That was a big thing, I never wanted to fail a class. This year, I definitely failed a couple of classes, and that is such a huge shift for me, to go from As and Bs to Ds and Fs. Like I open Aeries and it doesn’t feel like they’re my grades because it doesn’t look like the grades I’m used to having. I feel like it isn’t supposed to be my life, if that makes any sense.

Would you say your grades have affected your self confidence or your happiness with school?

Oh my gosh, yeah. I know it’s not right to base your self worth around your grades, and people tell you that, but I can’t help but feel like okay, if I’m failing this class then I’m probably stupid because nobody else is really failing this class. And I get a lot of people who are like, ‘oh, online school’s so much easier, you can cheat on the tests and you can just Google the answers,’ and yes you can probably do that, but it’s not that easy. It doesn’t feel easier to me, if anything it’s harder because you’re trying to find the perfect answer. But anyways I’ll sit here and go ‘I don’t feel very proud of myself today,’ like in Zoom in my final class I’ll think, ‘I don’t feel proud of what I’ve done today’ but I don’t know if I can do any better.

Do you think this situation has made you more anxious, like you have to get certain grades but then disappointed after you don’t?

For sure. I’ll sit down and be like ‘I need to get these missing assignments done,’ and then I won’t. Then when I’m in bed that same day I’ll go ‘I should have done those assignments. I’m not proud of myself.’ And I think that’s something I struggle with a lot, feeling proud of myself, because I don’t think the things I do anymore are worthy of feeling proud of. And that’s scary sometimes. Obviously you want to be proud of yourself but if you do one assignment out of 12, I don’t know if I can really feel proud of myself for that.

Ryder Tucker received a student-of-the-month award her freshman year. Although teachers like Michael Despars still celebrate student accomplishments, Ryder says finding things to celebrate in class is much harder these days. Photo courtesy of Ryder Tucker.

If there’s one thing you’re looking forward to in the future, what would that be?

I want to get back on stage again. I’m looking forward to the day that the curtains open and there’s an audience of people there and it feels like normal. I think that’s when it’ll seem like the world is back to normal for me. So as dumb as it sounds, the idea of going back on stage and doing something I love for people, even if the people in the audience are wearing masks or social distancing, just having that familiarity back somewhat, that’s what I’m looking forward to.

And do you think that simple act of going back to your normal routine would fix all of these other problems you’re having?

I don’t know if it would fix them per se. I’ve still got, like, 90 missing assignments that I’ve got to do one way or another, but it would definitely make it feel like it’s worth something. Like, yes, I know that these assignments are gonna get my grade up and therefore I’ll have good grades and go to a good college. But at this time it doesn’t feel like something I want to work towards, which is weird because I know I want to go to a good college, but the way the world is right now, it just feels like those problems are so far from now.

Do you think teachers understand what kids are going through, or is there something you want to tell your teachers about what’s happening to you?

I think teachers care about us, but I also think they’ve never experienced this before and the only people who can really understand what it is are students who are going through the same thing. Like this is such a crazy experience to go through, to have everything in the world and then have it all taken away in one day. And a class graduated without a real graduation, and even the seniors this year, we don’t know if they’re going to have a real graduation. There’s a level of uncertainty there that I don’t think the teachers quite understand and I wish that they could because sometimes it feels like they assign work without understanding that every other class is assigning work. A lot of the times I get teachers who are like, well you’re at home all day, you should have time to do the assignment, and technically speaking yeah I should have time to do it, but I don’t have the energy to do it, if that makes any sense. Like I’ve seen the world in a way I shouldn’t have and now I just have to sit here and do an algebra assignment while people are out there dying.

Have you found comfort in talking with your friends or is it still difficult to open up to people about issues?

I know other people have way worse home lives than I do, and I know it’s not good to compare problems but at the same time opening up to people is almost something I don’t want to do, and tell them ‘hey I’m really struggling right now’ because I’m scared they’re going to say ‘oh we’re all struggling right now, Ryder.’ I know we’re all going through problems, but at the same time nobody is in my head except for me, no one is going through that except for me. And I think that’s why it makes things difficult.

I just have one more thing to ask. Do you think talking to people, even regular conversation, does that make you feel drained at all?

Yes, 100%. I wouldn’t say I’m one of those people whose phone is always getting blown up, but even like three people wanting to talk to me about anything I feel like ‘oh my gosh, I don’t know if I have the ability to handle that right now.’ It feels like because I’ve gone so long without talking to people that talking to people feels just as much of a chore as sitting in a breakout room discussing the symbolism behind this book we’re reading. I used to be a really talkative person and now it just feels like, yes, I want to talk to people, but do people even want to talk to me? It’s that feeling of you not really knowing anymore because you can’t really tell what people’s emotions are over text, and you’ll want to call people over the phone but also it’s 2021 and who even talks on the phone anymore? So I want to talk to people, but I don’t really know how to anymore. It feels like that feeling has gone away and I know it’ll come back once the world comes back, but we’ve been saying ‘once the world comes back’ since April, and it just feels like the world is never coming back. I think it’ll be hard once we go back to school because we’re just a generation of kids who don’t know how to talk to each other.


Related Stories:

Doctor says don’t tell troubled teens ‘just get over it’

Vice principal sees students suffering, offers help

Let’s talk about mental health, for real