by Dennis Dalman
Being at home for so long day after day, having to do long-distance schoolwork and not being able to see and hug his grandparents sometimes made 12-year-old Dylan Anderson sad.
But the Sartell boy didn’t let the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic get him down. Not at all. Quite the contrary. He thrived all through it: learning, thinking, re-thinking so many things, doing physical activities, playing the viola and – last but not least – writing. It took him almost two months working every Monday to write, re-write, fine-tune and tweak an essay titled “Reaching Your Dreams by Choosing Optimism.” It was recently announced as the winner in a contest sponsored by the Central Minnesota Noon Optimist Club.
Dylan is a student at Sartell-St. Stephen Middle School. His 789-word essay, bursting with insights and good ideas, is an expertly written account of the good impacts the pandemic has had on his young life. It is, most of all, a keen-eyed study of how an optimistic, upbeat attitude can beat back feelings of gloom-and-doom.
“I was very surprised I won,” said Dylan in an interview with the Sartell Newsleader. “I just didn’t think mine would be best.”
Summing up his reaction to the pandemic, Dylan said this: “I didn’t want to be in the dumps and not come up well. I wanted to be on top. I like seeing people happy, and that’s why I wrote that essay – to help other people.”
His essay begins with this paragraph:
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That is a true optimist’s motto. I believe optimism is a daily attitude that you can use to achieve your dreams. You can do or achieve anything by looking for a creative twist to any situation and through compromise and hard work, you can make your dreams come true.”
Not surprisingly, Dylan is a straight-A student. He is the only child of Ryan and Cheryl Anderson. Ryan has been employed in a pool and spa industry for many years; Cheryl is vice president of the fundraising foundation for the Good Shepherd Community in Sauk Rapids. Each of the Anderson family is a dedicated member of the Love of Christ Church in Sartell.
In his young life, Dylan has already experienced loss and sorrow. His beloved maternal grandmother, Joanne Bell, passed on Feb. 23, age 76, after a struggle with a virulent, fast-spreading form of cancer. A resident of Pleasant Lake, she was so impressed with her grandson’s essay she made phone calls to all her siblings to read it to them. Like her, they were wowed by Dylan’s words. Sad to say, Grandma Bell did not live to learn that the essay was the award-winner, though it would not have surprised her.
Bell had been the prime caretaker for her husband, David, who is now in an assisted-living facility in Howard Lake. The family is trying to find a home for him closer to Sartell, closer to loved ones.
Dylan loved his visits to his grandparents’ place on Pleasant Lake.
“One of my happiest spots that I am very lucky to have is my lake property and hunting property,” he wrote in his essay. “My grandparents live there and although it is tough not being able to go in their house (pandemic isolation), I am very thankful that my family has a camper in their yard.”
At the lake, Dylan loves to fish, swim, walk, bike and hunt.
“Building those positive activities into my monthly routines has helped me tremendously in staying upbeat in these hard times,” he wrote.
At first, about a year ago, distance learning because of the Covid crisis was a rigorous challenge for Dylan. However, he persisted, moving forward fearlessly with discipline and brimming confidence.
He called the distance way of learning “an enormous adjustment” from his in-school learning experiences of his earlier years.
“I have learned,” he wrote, “to be more positive and grateful for the people around me. Being in quarantine has made me appreciate and be excited for even the smallest events I have taken for granted in the past. I talk with friends on a day-to-day basis, hang out with my family, and of course play with my dogs.”
Those beloved dogs, golden doodles named Rocky and Homer, even “skate” with Dylan on the flooded lot next to his home in Sartell.
Being at home so much for a year, Dylan found himself taking on new tasks that he’d rarely done before: doing dishes, doing laundry, learning to cook with his parents, vacuuming and mowing the lawn for his former daycare lady (“She is like family,” he wrote.) Lawn-mowing sparked the idea of maybe starting up a lawn-care business with friends this summer.
During the pandemic isolation, Dylan wasted no time exploring new activities: cross-country skiing, weight-lifting. Those are in addition to his long-time loves of hockey practice, baseball games and extracurricular activities.
Staying physically fit is part and parcel of staying mentally healthy and alert, Dylan strongly believes – and practices.
“ . . . I am also finding pleasure in doing things that are spur of the moment and by myself,” he wrote. “I think optimistic people like to do things that give them personal space and time to think.”
Dylan is focused on the future. He wants to become a lawyer so he can help people because that is one of his passions.
He is certain the variety of skills, disciplines and learning made possible by the pandemic will suit him well in becoming a lawyer one day.
“Because I like to help people, when I turn 16, I would like to work for my old (former) daycare lady, who now has a business teaching doctors, nurses, daycare people and others who need to know how to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). He plans to be one of her students in an online class with the goal of maybe teaching CPR himself during high school and college.
Dylan is convinced the pandemic in many ways helped him become stronger, wiser and happier.
He ends his essay, of course, on an optimistic note:
“I believe I have become a stronger person and feel I am closer to achieving my dreams by choosing to live my life optimistically.”