By Louisa Petrillo, SPHS Class of 2021
It’s your opening move. You’re playing white so you have the advantage. Do you start with your pawn? And if so, do you jump right in moving it two squares or take it slow with one? Or do you take a riskier strategy, moving your knight up in front of your army?
That’s what it felt like starting my freshman year. After being the top dog in eighth grade, I was now at the bottom of the food chain in high school — a weak piece, worth sacrificing in battle of chess… a lowly pawn.
So I jumped right in, very calculated, using the strategy I’ve practiced and know very well. Always do my work, move a pawn forward. Don’t stay up late, move a pawn forward. Study for tests, move a pawn forward. Sometimes I would throw in other plays. Hang out with family on the weekend. Knight advances. Or learn how to take the Metro with friends every Saturday to eat dinner together. Bishop advances.
Sophomore year came and with every move I was making, I became more confident in my endgame. I met teachers I absolutely adored that made me actually enjoy learning. I was getting good grades but also going to the movies with my friends. I was taking black’s pieces left and right while also lining mine up for checkmate.
Junior year, the game seemed to be getting close. I was going to school dances and making new friends. But life made for a pretty good opponent. Sneaking up on my knights with challenging AP classes. And counter-attacking my rooks with the ACT. I was putting up a good battle, though. Until out of the blue, black takes my queen: Covid-19 causes a global pandemic. And all of a sudden I’m in check. The protector of my king, the leader of my army, the vision I had for my senior year is gone, just like that.
How could something so big suddenly creep up on me?
All strategy is lost. My bishops and knights are being thrown off the board in all different directions. Junior prom is cancelled, boom. Stay-at-home orders are announced, boom. What started out as two fun extra weeks of spring break turns into multiple months of at-home school, boom, boom, boom.
I realize I need to take this time to rethink my strategy. Aggression isn’t working. Focus. Breathe. And most importantly, don’t give up. I have to get my limited pieces back in order. So I go to the park and have a socially distanced picnic, or I Zoom with my whole family to play games… carefully positioning all my remaining fighting pieces. Meanwhile, my pawn that I thought was so meaningless advances to the end of the board, maturing with every step. While black is distracted, I make it to the other side, turning that pawn into a queen–learning to focus on myself and the things that really matter.
My chess game of high school has taught me that studying isn’t going to win the game by itself. Sure, it might help move some pieces around, but learning about my own strengths and weaknesses, and making relationships and experiences along the way turned out to be my strongest weapon all along.
Graduating SPHS may mean that I’ve captured the king in this game, but college and beyond is going to bring many new matches. Some I will win, and some I need to be prepared to lose. Luckily though, I know the board will always look the same and I feel empowered knowing that I’m in control of moving the pieces in my life. These four years have shown me that a calculated strategy may be a good start, but life throws curveballs. And even when you’re playing your best game, it can snatch away your queen right in front of your eyes. I know what to do now when that happens; look back at your plays, understand where you are, and then move forward with confidence. And in the end your pawn just might win you your game. How’s that for a checkmate?