For most people, the feeling of being back at school sets in at 7 a.m. on that first morning, as the alarm reminds us that we now have classes to attend, assignments to finish, and tests to take. We tend to imagine that the first week of school introduces us to our teachers, classes, and routines that we will engage with for the rest of the year.

In my experience, especially in 2020, this feeling of routine being established, and summer ending, takes longer than just one week. The process of going back to school occurs over the course of several weeks.

Then one day, you wake up a few minutes before your alarm, easily get up to prepare for school, and realize that your day isn’t just filled with Zoom classes, but also with playing a sport, attending your club meetings, finishing that homework, going to a part-time job, and maybe even volunteering on the weekends. It is this experience — that sudden busy feeling because of everything you want and have to do — that always marks the end of my summer and the start of a new school year.

This year, I did not know whether or not I would return to that feeling. Last spring, it wasn’t just school that closed early in March. COVID-19 made it so all of my clubs could no longer meet, all sports had their seasons canceled, the theater club couldn’t put on the spring musical, and countless other experiences we previously took for granted were taken away. After watching all of that put on indefinite hold, we had no way of knowing whether or not returning back to school this year meant going back to all the activities that fill the time outside of the classroom.

While the priority in school always will and should be learning, for me, enjoying high school can only come from a fusion of the academic and the extracurricular. This year, I wasn’t worried about how my classes would be set up or if I could handle the changes to our schedule, because I knew that the class of 2021 had adapted to many different changes in our lives and that we could certainly handle this one. I was thinking about if all the meetings, activities, and events that make Wilton High School into such a special and meaningful community would ever come back to us.

In this past week, I have been relieved to see that others put a similar value on these after-school activities. I have had multiple board meetings over Zoom with my clubs, planning on how we’re going to recruit new members, what our meetings should look like, and how to adapt to a new virtual format. I had the opportunity to volunteer this weekend at the American Legion, working with my fellow Boy Scouts to give back to an important part of the community. My friends have started their sports practices after school and picked up shifts at their local jobs on the weekends.

As we return to these valuable experiences, I realize that summer and quarantine have truly ended and we are actually back at school. Although it took more effort to come back this year, there exists a pervasive dedication in Wilton to maintaining these important aspects of our individual lives and the collective community. As we look forward to the rest of the year and beyond, I know that many of the best parts of Wilton and the people here will never change in spite of whatever challenges we face.

Ryan McElroy is a senior at Wilton High School. He shares this column with three classmates.