Seniors going out of state are in danger of freezing to death

Winter? We barely know her!

Southern California isn’t exactly known for its cold weather. Other than our blazing summer months, seasons are understood to be a mild affair for the most part. However, this year has been something of a different experience. For heaven’s sake, this has been a brutal winter. 

Since last November, mornings have felt like rounds of Russian roulette: either you walk out into a balmy 70-degree paradise, or you’re met with a frigid wasteland, a layer of ice coating your windshield and a wind-chill that shocks you to your core. The good days are fine, but the bad ones are miserable.

For seniors facing down graduation like the barrel of a gun, this bone-chilling cold brings up an important question: how will those of us set to go to college in a colder climate adapt? If the cold of the Golden State is already unbearable, how will we manage to survive winters in places like New York or, God forbid, Canada?

Those of us preparing to attend college in a place where Oak Park’s temperature floor is the tip of the iceberg may be in for a rough time. Nearly two decades of mild winters and scorching summers have conditioned us to think that 60 degrees is cold, 50 degrees is polar and 40 degrees is just about the lower limit to what a human being can stand. 

Because of this, across Oak Park High School, the dominant idea of winter wear has come to be a hoodie and pajama pants or a sweater and jeans. For many students, having to navigate through snow and ice on our way to class is an utterly chilling prospect. 

As I thought about the issue more, it occurred to me that a much dread-inspiring question lurked beneath my interest in out-of-state weather patterns: why do I find the idea of a winter worth contending with so scary?

If we think about it practically, buying a heavier coat and a pair of winter boots should do the trick. While inconvenient, this adaptation certainly isn’t earth-shattering. But all the same, I think about having to deal with an honest-to-goodness snow day, and I can’t help but be a little bit terrified.

The question sparks an endless flurry of subsequent questions, each one more unanswerable than the last. Where will we be in 20 years? What will those future winters be like? How will we deal with the cold that they will bring? It’s like the future is bearing down on us like a semi-truck, and all we can do is brace for impact.

Of course, the issue is about far more than winter – it’s about change. It’s about understanding that the time that many of us have in Oak Park is nearing an end, and then reckoning with that loss.

Change is scary. Routine is a powerful source of everyday comfort. Unfortunately, losing that comfort can be devastating, and many of us are facing the most monumental change of our lives up to this point within only a matter of months.

Tropical Decembers aren’t the only thing seniors moving out of state will lose. The meticulously crafted schedules that we’ve followed since elementary school will disintegrate from under our feet. Once rock-solid networks of friends are destined to be strained or broken by distance. Daily encounters with loved ones will be reduced to occasional FaceTime calls and holiday visits.

When the Woolsey Fire hit Ventura County in 2018, I was one of the many residents forced to evacuate. I remember packing a bag of clothes and a few valuables that I couldn’t afford to have the fire take away from me, loading everything into my parents’ car and driving away without a destination in mind. All we could think about was how we needed to get out.

I remember looking out onto the hillside that bordered my house and seeing it all engulfed in towers of flame. I remember seeing the night sky that had been so pristine just days prior, illuminated by the sinister glow of embers and clouded by a thick layer of smoke. Most of all, I remember feeling a tremendous sense of terror. Everything that had come to stand for my home was being burned away before my eyes, and I was utterly helpless to stop it. All I could do was move on and hope for the best. I feel that way again now.

Walking through the halls, I don’t know which of the people I pass I’ll stay in touch with and which I’ll lose contact with. I don’t know which will send holiday cards and ask about my whereabouts every time they are in town and which will move on to other things without regard to whatever I was to them as a classmate or friend. On the other hand, I don’t know which classmates will linger in my mind and which will be forgotten. I’m agonizingly unsure about which stories I’ll remember and which ones I won’t, which moments I’ll take with me and which ones I’ll leave behind.

The uncertainty of it all tears me to shreds. It feels cold outside for the first time in my life.

We can’t postpone the rest of our lives much longer. Whether or not we are prepared, spring has arrived. Summer and autumn will soon follow. Then we must brave winter on our own for the first time. Will we be able to adapt, or will we be caught up in the avalanche of it all?