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In early 2020, all of our lives were turned upside down. It was mid-March when the Stanford administration told all students that they had a few days to pack up their things and leave campus indefinitely. My brother Ethan and I did as we were told and flew home, assuming that we would be back for the spring quarter. Wow, how wrong we were.
For everybody, everything became very virtual very quickly. We got used to attending classes online and muting ourselves so that our classmates wouldn’t hear whoever was cooking 20 feet away from us—out of frame, most of the time. But, for Ethan and myself, the most difficult part about remote learning was being separated from our friends and communities. Ethan is a member of the Stanford lacrosse team; I’m part of a large political organization on campus. Our communities have defined our college experience and helped shape us into the people we are. The bonds we formed were strong, but they grew weaker and weaker with every second we spent on Zoom.
The vast majority of us have all attended some kind of large social gathering on Zoom. So we’re all acutely aware of how those go: the microphones get muted, the cameras turn off, and the conversation dies. There’s always one poor soul who tries desperately to lead the group by asking questions and hopes that someone throws them a bone. Week after week, fewer and fewer people show up to recurring events—until they get cancelled altogether.
Ethan and I attended what seemed like 100 too many of these, always walking away from them distraught and feeling disconnected. And it seems very fitting that the catalyst for the founding of Toucan was one seriously awful Zoom birthday party.
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Antonia Hellman is a co-founder and co-CEO of Toucan. She is a senior at Stanford University studying political science, economics, and management science & engineering.
Prior to Toucan, her career experience has been in data science and political campaigning.
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