What We Did with 2020

Making the best out of a terrible year


in Features • Illustrated by Nina Pagano


I am not one for New Year’s optimism. The past three years have been marked with “Worst Year” ribbons, but like Alex Forrest, 2020 was not to be ignored. In February, I began to see reports of a virus that promised to be a global pandemic, soon after I read Ed Yong’s 2018 Atlantic essay about the United States’s lack of preparation for a global pandemic. Images from Outbreak haunted me as did a “fun” pandemic simulator test I took a couple of years ago — the one that told me based on my reactions that I would last 27 days.

In March, we like so many others started working from home. The work itself did not change. We still answered e-mails, dutifully added essays into WordPress, had meetings. But the randomness of everyday interactions ceased — questions that would lead to conversations, moments of commiseration that turned into story ideas, meetings that carved time out of our busy lives to just enjoy the people who loved working on The Smart Set (and talk about the schedule, of course). So much of our office has been influenced by these seemingly banal interactions. And they were (and will be) often the best part of every day.

To be alienated from these extraordinary ordinary interactions as curves remain curvy, thousands die daily, and futures remain uncertain, added to the trauma of everyday living in 2020.

But even if I am not a particularly optimistic person, I am a reflective person, and try to find at least a bronze lining when silver ain’t. The Smart Set staff were still able to follow through with our annual round-up of things we discovered or enjoyed in 2020. Most are simple, reminders of what we value the most — relationships — with others and ourselves. Definitely something worth carrying into the new year.

Nina’s List


Drexel University’s CO-OP program pair students with employers for a six month period as part of their plan of study. As current Art Director of The Smart Set I’ve spent the last quarter drawing everyday. I’ve also read some fantastic articles. I could not have expected a better first graphics job and workplace (although partially virtual). 

Extra family time

I’ve gotten the chance to spend more time with my parents, brother, and grandparents due to COVID-19. A summer meant to be spent abroad became a summer at home. Although momentarily disappointing, I’ve appreciated the additional family time I’ve seen this year. 

TV Catch Up

With COVID-19 keeping us indoors, I have had plenty of time to dive into shows and movies that have sat in my notes as “to watch,” for months and months. Now I can say that my movie pallet is slightly more elevated. 

Anaya’s List


Being in school, I didn’t make time for like cooking and working out. Committing to my hobbies helped organize my time and keep my piece of mind during the beginning of quarantine.


Not being able to physically be with my friends made me appreciate them more and want to strengthen our relationship.


I have been working more on my own personal content creation and am excited to fully execute the plans I made during quarantine.

Marguerita’s List

Animal Crossing

This year, the new Animal Crossing came out on the Nintendo Switch, and since then the internet has been obsessed with the game’s wholesomeness, its aesthetic, and its peaceful gameplay. I was so captivated by it in the beginning because I had played some of the older versions in my childhood, but this game had much more opportunity for customization and personalization of both your character and your island, which made this an extremely exciting and relaxing use of my free time, especially during this particularly stressful year. 

The Haunting of Bly Manor

The series sequel to the Netflix’s adaption of Shirley Jackson’s classic horror The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor was everything it lived up to be and more. The characters and their intertwining stories made me scream, laugh, and cry, and the acting, unsurprisingly, was phenomenal. This show was a nice escape from the pressures of school and the worries of the world.

2020 Election Results

I mean, this was, no question, the biggest relief to the end of this year. While the days leading up to Nov. 3rd (and the days after) were some of the most stressful, the results were worth it. The happiness and celebration after those days, along with the victory speech of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris, the world, while still in disrepair, felt a bit lighter.

Melinda’s List

Tik Tok

I joined to see what all the kids were up to. It was kind of a dare from our intern, at the time, who promised it fun and not overwhelming. While, yes, spending quarantine hours flipping has brought a numbing sensation to my anxiety, it has also prompted excuses to reach out by sending videos that just say “I’m thinking of you.” I’m not sure what it means to others when I send ten at a time from the hours of 1 am to 3 am, but I think about people a lot.

These Truths

I was excited to read Jill Lepore’s book when I initially got it at the end of 2018. It sat patiently on the shelf, waiting for me to get my shit together. 2020, I came to it with a sense of urgency to better understand how everything hit a boiling point in 2020. The narrative she weaves is utterly impressive and infuriating.


Despite living in 2020 with . . . you know . . . this, all my body wanted this year was to explore the horror genre. I was never opposed to horror growing up, but it was an overwhelming genre with an even more overwhelming fanbase. But in 2020, I buckled up and watched slasher after slasher. The cheesier the better. It was a fun project to dive into while refusing to acknowledge the dirty dishes piling up in the sink. •