Wenjia Tang

Each installment of The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.

This week she talks with a group of eighth graders at Seabrook Intermediate School in Seabrook, Texas, who are stuck at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. To entertain themselves, they hosted a PowerPoint party on Saturday. Each of them prepared a slide presentation on a topic of their choice (ranging from astronomy to unsolved murders to Disney princesses) and shared it with the others over the videochat software Zoom. They discuss their initial reactions to their school closing, explain the appeal of a PowerPoint party over other kinds of virtual hangouts, and share what isolation has taught them about friendship.

The Friends:

Carly Bohlmann, 14
Reagan Ford, 14
Lane Harper, 14
Audrey Lapuyade, 13
Walter Long, 14
Andrew Newmyer, 14
Georgia Perello, 13
Amelia Weiss, 14

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Julie Beck: When do you remember first hearing about the coronavirus outbreak? What was your reaction?

Amelia Weiss: I think the first time it came to our attention was maybe two weeks before spring break. One of our English teachers was really into having us learn and research about it—she put up this tracker of how many cases [there were], and that was when it started to hit us.

Andrew Newmyer: [Our school] started by adding a couple of days to spring break. We thought, This’ll probably pass soon. Then the school shut down, and everybody’s [saying], "Stay at home. Take care of yourself. Wash your hands." Then we started figuring out how severe and widespread it was.

Lane Harper: Spring break was supposed to end on the 13th, but now it’s extended until April.

A screenshot of the kids holding their PowerPoint party.
Lane (top left), Amelia (top right), Carly (bottom left), and Georgia (bottom right) on a video call. (Courtesy of Lane Harper)

Reagan Ford: I was at a friend’s house and her mom came out and said, “You guys don’t have school next week, because of the virus,” We were like, Yay! And then we realized, Wait, that’s bad. Now we’re in quarantine. People are getting sick, I’m stuck in my house alone, and it’s hard.

Lane: A lot of people, including myself, were joking about it at first, about how glad they were that school was postponed indefinitely. And then everyone realized this is super serious and it needed to be treated that way.

Amelia: At first the euphoria of not having to go to school was so big that we didn’t realize all the stuff that we’d start missing out on, like tennis districts and track districts.

Lane: Our final band competition of the year got canceled. And all the concerts are canceled also.

Andrew: A big statewide band competition. A lot of us were looking forward to it. A lot of us put in a lot of effort. I think we all [also] realized it’s a lot harder to learn online than it is in a classroom. This is a lot more difficult and wilder than we previously thought it was.

Beck: Whose idea was it to have the PowerPoint party? Can you explain what that is?

Audrey Lapuyade: Walter sent us a post about [someone doing] something similar. We changed it up and made it our own. We thought it’d be cool and something to do with our time while we were stuck in quarantine.

Andrew: You make a random PowerPoint on something that you enjoy, and you present it to your friends. We all picked a random topic—some topics were really goofy.

Audrey: It was interesting to listen to, because everyone got to share something that they were passionate about. I think a Zoom meeting can last up to 40 minutes and we had to restart it three times.

Beck: Can everybody introduce the title of your presentation, or the topic that you presented on?

Lane: I did my presentation on gravitational lensing.

Beck: What is that? I don’t even know.

Lane: It’s a way that light travel is affected by gravity fields in space; you can observe it from a telescope.

A screenshot of Lane's presentation.
A slide from Lane’s presentation. (Courtesy of Lane Harper)

Andrew: I did my mine on Parks and Recreation characters. It was a show that I really enjoyed; I wanted to tell people about it.

Walter Long: Mine was ranking the Disney princesses.

Beck: Who was the best one?

Walter: Mulan, definitely.

Georgia Perello: My favorite show is The Office. So I made a whole PowerPoint just summing up the show.

Amelia: My topic was some of the most notorious unsolved murders and who the most likely suspects would be. Like the Jack the Ripper case, the Tylenol murders, the Texarkana Phantom Killer. I presented some of their patterns, what their victim range was, and who the most likely suspect would be and why.

A screenshot of Amelia's presentation.
A slide from Amelia’s presentation. (Courtesy of Amelia Weiss)

Reagan: I did mine on the Titans and Greek mythology because I’m a huge Percy Jackson fan.

Carly Bohlmann: I ranked all the songs from [the Disney Channel show] Phineas and Ferb.

Beck: How many songs were there?

Carly: About 300.

Beck: What’s the best one?

Carly: The best one is their one-hit wonder Gitchee Gitchee Goo.”

A screenshot of Carly's presentation.
A slide from Carly’s presentation. (Courtesy of Carly Bohlmann)

Audrey: I did mine on, if the apocalypse were to occur, what everyone in this group would be doing. For example, if we were hiding, Georgia would start doing this really high-pitched laugh that she does and compromise our spot.

Amelia: I remember she said that Carly would be the mom, and she’d be making sure no one got hurt. Lane would be the strategist of the group, coming up with plans on how to survive. For myself, she said that I would be very chill, but the second that we got into a conflict with someone else, I would pull out a ton of weapons.

Beck: What made this particular format appealing, rather than just having a normal Zoom hangout?

Lane: This format, instead of talking to each other for multiple hours, lets you inform or entertain your friends about whatever you’re interested in. It lets you work on something other than school that you actually want to do on your computer.

Audrey: Whenever you have a normal conversation about something, you can go in all these different directions. PowerPoints helped us actually focus on the topics we wanted to talk about.

Amelia: There’s this big event going on that’s ruined a ton of stuff, not just for us but for so many people. This is something that we can control. It’s helping us cope.

Georgia: It’s a distraction from all that’s going on, and it’s not like we can really hang out with each other right now. This is a way to come together, in a different way—teaching instead of just talking.

Reagan: Everyone’s been stuck in their house and that’s really hard, being away from your friends for so long. It’s really nice to get to see them again.

Lane: We’ve also made a group of pen pals, to send letters to each other. It just started a few days ago, so I haven’t gotten anything yet. It’s going to be another way to connect, like this PowerPoint party was.

Beck: So I have something to confess to you guys, which is that I 100 percent stole your idea. My friends and I also had a PowerPoint party this weekend.

Amelia: What was yours on?

Beck: Mine was on how the quad jump has ruined men’s figure skating.

Amelia: How many slides was it? I need to know this.

Beck: Let me look it up … It was 18 slides. One thing I felt was nice about our PowerPoint party was, whenever I have an unstructured conversation with my friends these days, we just end up talking about quarantine and the coronavirus. And the format that you all popularized here forces you to talk about other things.

Andrew: During our party, corona didn’t come up at all.

Beck: Has this experience of being isolated changed the way that you think about your friendships?

Reagan: I don’t know about everyone else, but I don’t like school that much, because I have to get up early and do work. But I never realized how much not going to school would affect me. I can still text [my friends], but not getting to see them in person has an impact. It’s made me think: Don’t take your friends for granted.

Andrew: I think this helped us realize who our really good friends are and how important they are to us.

Carly, Georgia, Reagan, and Amelia sit together at a picnic for school.
Carly, Georgia, Reagan, Amelia on a picnic. (Courtesy of Lane Harper)

Amelia: One of the main things with quarantine and friendship is, it’s not the same, because the physical contact isn’t there. I really depend on body language to help myself with conversations. Since you’re looking through a screen, there’s so much that you can’t see. I like being on my phone; I’m not going to deny that. But now that it’s my only way of talking to anyone, it’s really not that great anymore.

Audrey: I definitely think that we’ve latched onto these friendships more. Everything is morbid and kind of dark, but whenever we’re talking with our friends, we have something else to latch onto. So it’s definitely helping us cope with the fact that we’re in quarantine.

Walter: Quarantine is getting really boring. I’ve been watching Netflix all day, and it is just nice seeing all my friends again during the PowerPoint party.

Georgia: Human interaction is so important for me; it’s not the same just using technology. This being our eighth-grade year, we’re all going to different high schools, so we’re all leaving each other soon. Having less of that time [together] is just so awful.

Carly: I was closer with some of the people in this group than I was with others [before being quarantined]. I feel closer to Andrew now. We didn’t really talk that much before. So I’m glad we do have the technology to be able to continue communicating with people. Even though it’s different, it’s still better than nothing.

Lane: The structure of going to school every day for seven hours and coming home—that kind of structure was something that I relied on for so long. And now that it’s gone, and you’re doing whatever you can to fill the day, I just miss seeing everyone, passing them in the halls. You don’t even have to say anything; you just know that they’re there. There’s that kind of connection even though there’s nothing to be said. But now we’re just a whole big family because of this whole thing with the PowerPoint party.


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