Mac High standouts share struggles and successes from the pandemic

Submitted photo##McMinnville High School valedictorian Opal Primozich.
Submitted photo##McMinnville High School valedictorian Opal Primozich.


We all have everyday heroes, whether it’s a coworker who can always seem to pick up your shifts, a classmate who will always share notes, or just a friend who you look up to for various reasons. We’ve all got someone in our lives whom we idolize from a distance.

For me, it’s Opal Primozich.

Opal is the senior associated student body president of McMinnville High School and the state president of the Oregon Association of Student Councils.

Like many other students all across the state, I watched as Opal was elected president of OASC in 2021, and how, in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown, she transformed the organization for the better.

However, unlike many students across the state of Oregon, I also was able to witness Opal’s personal growth over the course of the pandemic through Zoom classes, social media posts and the other side of an Advance Placement chemistry desk.

Many say it’s best to never meet your heroes. But curious about her thoughts surrounding leadership, lifestyle and lockdown, I sat down with Opal to pick her brain about how exactly she got through our months of Comprehensive Distance Learning.

Here it is, in a form edited only for clarity and brevity:

Ellen: Some kids were really happy about school shutting down at the beginning of the pandemic, and other kids were devastated by it. Where would you say you fell on this spectrum?

Opal: I’m really social, and I’ve always had a lot of responsibilities, so it was really, really difficult for me. Obviously, my mental health suffered along with so many others. I learned how to thrive in online school sophomore year, when I really started getting back involved in stuff, but those months when everything shut down, I did not get the hang of it. My dad used to work in downtown Portland, so the family time was a silver lining, and I’m lucky that I have that stability at home that allowed me to enjoy it so much. But yeah, it was bad.”

Ellen: How was online school for you?

Opal: I have a lot of mental health struggles, and I think that it kind of just twisted the knife a little bit. They’ve always been underlying, but I never really accepted that I had those issues, and that I needed to work on them, until I had so much time where I was forced to sit with them and myself. That sophomore year online taught me how to take care of myself and prioritize my mental health in the way that I needed. That was a gift in the end, because I’m so much stronger and better for that now, but it was not easy at all.

Ellen: What was OASC like during this time?

Opal: I have nothing but respect for the boards that were in their positions during that time. It was really hard. But I also remember being so frustrated. I was like “OK, I just — I gotta be president because I have so many ideas.” Because we were in that online era, I was extra motivated to run for president. That was the deciding factor of “OK, they need help and I can do that.”

Ellen: How did you adapt your learning and life schedule during online learning for coming back to school?

Opal: I think that the biggest thing during distance learning was that I had time to do all of the stuff that I wanted. My job, OASC, ASB, all of these have always taken the cake over school. It’s not that I don’t get school done, but I found that coming back junior year, I had super limited time and still all of this stuff on my plate that I was so passionate about. I’m proud of the way that I led and made it through, but it was hard to relearn everything and manage my time.

Ellen: Do you think that your experience with COVID has changed you for better or worse?

Opal: One hundred percent for the better. Empathy, understanding, and compassion have always been key things for me, but the actual experience of practicing those things on a day-to-day basis has made those priorities for me so much stronger. I think a lot of people would agree with [this] shared experience of, “Oh, I learned how to understand, empathize, love people better, care more and see opposite sides.” It has 100% made me a better person and leader.

Editor’s note: Late last year, the Pamplin Media Group, which publishes the Portland Tribune and 23 other Oregon weeklies, teamed up with CareOregon to commission profiles of a dozen graduating metro-area seniors. The idea was to explore how they coped with the pandemic that struck their freshman year, and to do it through the eyes of student journalists. Among the student authors was Mac High speech and debate star Ellen Zhang Dong, who chose to profile Mac High valedictorian and student body president Opal Primozich, using a Q and A format.The piece is being republished here, with permission. The original can be found at http://www.portlandtribune.com/class-of-covid-state-student-association-president-finds-a-path-to-post-pandemic-success/article_3c51f9a6-bdf2-11ed-8379-576ae7510f4d.html.



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