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After returning from virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, youth had to relearn what making friends at school was all about. SWAG writers reflected on the difficulties, as well as ways they make friends.

Pamplin Media Group's Student Writers Advisory Group — better known as SWAG — is made up of representatives from Wilsonville, West Linn, Lake Oswego and Lakeridge high schools. Each month they come together to share their unique high school perspectives and write about various topics.

For their first assignment of the year, Khushi Rastogi and Annamika Konkola chose to write about friendships. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making friends has been a challenge and students at our local high schools have had to get creative to create social circles.

Rastogi and Konkola wrote columns that give perspective on making friends through extra-curricular activities during distance learning and the realities of starting anew in an unfamiliar city.

Any students who wish to join SWAG for the 2022-23 school year are invited to apply by contacting Mia Ryder-Marks at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. To apply, simply email a writing sample (can be a class assignment), your name, school and grade level. Applicants are asked to attend monthly meetings after school (generally lasting about an hour) to discuss topics with other SWAG members and write monthly submissions ranging from 200-500 words.

SWAG pieces are published monthly in Wilsonville Spokesman, West Linn Tidings and Lake Oswego Review. — Mia Ryder-Marks

Pandemic underscored importance of in-person interactions

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines friendship as "a distinctively personal relationship that is grounded in a concern on the part of each friend for the welfare of the other." While I agree with this definition, to me there is so much more to a friend.

In school, I have mostly met friends through shared classes. Whether it was because of an akin love of the class or the people I was assigned to work with on projects, there was always some way to bond. As time passed, I found more in common with others in my group. Just like that, we had unknowingly started a friendship. While I met some of my closest friends in my courses, I had the greatest luck meeting people through clubs like science club and student unions, and other after-school activities. Clubs were different because we were there by choice. This meant we already had at least one thing in common with the other students in the club: an interest in the topic. COURTESY PHOTO: KHUSHI RASTOGI - Khushi wanted to become a student columnist as she understands how integral student voices., Lake Oswego Review - News Student Writers Advisory Group are tasked with writing a monthly column about issues impacting youth. Introducing our new student columnists

Walking through the halls of a school, no matter what grade you're in, the students always split into groups, sitting in the same place with the same people. As a middle schooler, I often thought this was strange. I was used to a small number of kids per grade and spending time with everyone. However, it was no longer like elementary school, where everybody in your grade was your friend. As I continued through middle school, however, I slowly realized how nice it must be to have a loyal group of friends you could trust and have by your side.

This idea of having a close group of friends was always a struggle for me and still is. I never knew what to say to people when approaching them, and I had an irrational fear of saying the wrong thing. I tended to stick with the same one or two friends, but this backfired on me as they started to branch out and make new friends while I was still scared to try. It always seemed so easy on TV or in books: One kid walks up to another, and bam. They became best friends for life. Naïve sixth grade-me believed that in a heartbeat. I was sure that it would be easy for me too. But suddenly things changed when school was pushed online for the next year and a half due to COVID-19.

The idea of online school was something nobody could fathom at first. It grew on us eventually — especially the lunch breaks that lasted several hours. With the minimal homework given to us, we had plenty of free time. There was also very little interaction with anyone else. Like many others, I wasn't very talkative in class, and we all know how much talking went on in breakout rooms. I stayed home in the company of no one but my family, which I was perfectly content with.

They often asked me if I wanted to hang out with friends sometimes, and I always dismissed this suggestion, and it was never forced on me. I was happy to be away from the swarms of students at school and in the safety of my house. When school went back in person, I hardly said a word, not because I didn't want to, but solely because I didn't know how to. I had no idea how to be in an environment full of people who weren't my family members. I found myself wishing I had stayed in touch with my friends. It took some time to bond and connect with them again. It helped me realize their value and what I had missed by being away from them for so long. It also helped me form new friendships. Friends are not someone to be overlooked or taken for granted. It took a while for me to feel comfortable around them again, but it was an experience that truly helped me understand the value of friendship.

— Khushi Rastogi

Small moments can spark anything

Against the sting of the wind against my face, I force my eyes to refocus. Ten feet in front of me, a leaf oscillates through the air, falling to the center of a pool of leftover rain water flooding the damp lawns. Ripples radiate outward. Today, even just walking back home from the bus seems like an insurmountable task — the cold is piercing, and the soporific drone of a far-away lawnmower places weights on my eyes. I continue to track the ripples: one … two … three … four rings emanate from the fallen leaf before dissolving into nothing. After a few seconds, the puddle falls still.

As I approach the small pool of water, contemplating whether I should step into the street to avoid it or just hope that my shoes avoid accumulating too much mud, hurried footsteps suddenly seem to spring up from nowhere. Behind me, a twig snaps under a shoe. But, before I can even glance backward, my rain jacket is soaked. With inconceivable confidence, she pushes past me and plants, both feet squarely in the center of the puddle. Water droplets splatter backwards and onto me. Once again disturbed, ripples of water radiate from the soles of her feet. They crash into each other in a silent, chaotic symphony of movement. COURTESY PHOTO: ANNAMIKA KONKOLA - With her passion for civic engagement and amplifying student voice, Annamika Konkola joined SWAG to explore more issues impacting students. , Lake Oswego Review - News Student Writers Advisory Group are tasked with writing a monthly column about issues impacting youth. Introducing our new student columnists

Never in my life had I been so surprised and, interestingly, that is one of my only friendships where I can pinpoint a definitive start; today, I notice that most of my friendships often seem to drift between different circles of proximity. Close friends, new acquaintances, old friends from past memories and complete strangers fall in and out of focus in my life. Often, it feels really easy to repeatedly fall back on the same circle. But I do think there is something inherently hopeful in having experienced the unpredictable process of building friendships. Like the ripples that sprung from the puddle, often it feels like the world is just at my fingertips. In seeing the complete randomness of new connections, I realized that all friendships start somewhere. Anywhere. Over the years, I have mysteriously lost numerous sets of pencils, forcing me to ask an acquaintance to borrow theirs. Sometimes, those acquaintances turn into friends. That circle of people in my life grows a little bit bigger.

On a cold February afternoon in math class, I remember spontaneously drawing an 'x' in red marker on the corner of a worksheet we were supposed to share. It was a Wednesday, and the last thing I wanted to be doing was looking at the tortuously small variables. But to my surprise, when I was handed back that paper, my single x had been transformed into a haphazardly constructed tic-tac-toe board slightly askew in the corner. Silently stifling laughter, we drew Xs and Os over and over, filling the page with made-up variables just barely legible over the problems we were supposed to be working on.

Today, the connections I have with my friends are what gets me through weeks of assignments that seem to drag on forever, the uncertainty of the world today and the overwhelming excitement of the newest television shows. Sometimes, the randomness — a puddle, suddenly-misplaced pencils, Xs scribbled into makeshift games — even seems positively exhilarating. In the spontaneity, I realized that it was always the smallest interactions that always seemed to outline the significance of these friendships in my life. As a student, the most vivid memories I have are of the little moments: the times when the world didn't seem quite so terrifying because I knew I could share my fears, my joy and my excitement with someone else. Those little circles of friendships can grow, ripples radiating outward. Small moments can spark anything.

— Annamika Konkola

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