Reporter Newspapers asked local students to respond to the following prompt: “Take a moment to reflect on how the pandemic has challenged you, what skills you relied on or developed to cope, and how you might use this experience to improve your future.”

Rohan Datta, The Galloway School, Class of 2022

When The Galloway School switched to remote learning in March 2020 as the pandemic surged, I was initially concerned about missing in-person classes and lunch with friends. As the originally three-week virtual commitment dragged on for three months, I felt isolated and unproductive. Fortunately, the tightly-knit community I’ve loved since Pre-K came through with Zoom, game-nights, FaceTimes, and socially-distant activities making me feel part of the community struggling together.

What the pandemic did affect, though, was my entrepreneurial aspirations. In the summer of 2020, I was excited to be selected for LaunchX, an entrepreneurship program that helps high schoolers launch startups and get real-world business experience. I was despondent when I saw the email announcing the program’s shift to virtual for its 6-week duration. This would significantly limit my ability to do market research with face-to-face encounters and interact with peers and even my own startup group. Luckily, over the course of the program, I was able to draw on and improve my ability to reach out to other people – even virtually – helping my team pivot from our initial idea, create a minimum viable product, and find beta testers. To escape feelings of isolation, I reached out to mentors and participated in the program’s community-building virtual events.

Although I acquired knowledge of ideation and bringing products to market, perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned was the real meaning of “networking.” It finally became clear to me that online networking goes beyond clicking the “like” button on Instagram or “connect” on LinkedIn. It is sharing your personality and genuine interest in the other person – without using a resume as a script. Even though I look forward to seeing people, interpreting body language, and hearing without a desktop speaker, as we emerge from the pandemic with “Zoom” as a verb, I know that these online networking skills are here to stay.