NEW YORK CITY — From moving across the country to now being in isolation, the pandemic has been a challenge for Temecula Great Oak High School and now-NYU freshman Zoé Medranda.

Her first year of college hasn't gone the way she ever could have expected.

What You Need To Know

  • Zoé Medranda graduated from Great Oak High School in Temecula in 2020

  • Medranda won the award for "Best Adventure Travel Film" in the All American High School Film Festival

  • More of her films can be viewed on YouTube

"Lonely and motivating, it’s like a mixture of two because I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t cried and been super sad and lonely and just wanting to go home," said Medranda.

Back to school from winter break, she’s been confined to digital interaction in her Manhattan dorm room for another 10 days.

"Usually you'd make friends in-person and then you'd meet them on Instagram, but now it's, you meet people on Instagram and then you meet them in-person, which is kind of weird," Medranda said. "And it's just been a very different experience."

But Medranda has channeled her experience into her filmmaking, relating her pandemic experience to her peers’ in a film highlighting the moments and memories of love, loss, friendship, and hope that led her to where she is right now.

While she’s been challenged by the city, pandemic, and distance from home, being uncomfortable, as Medranda explained, has forced her to grow as a filmmaker and person.

"I need to be uncomfortable here," she said. "I will grow when I’m uncomfortable, and back home, like going back for break and stuff, I realized I’m super comfortable."

The belief that challenges and failures make us who we are is at the heart of La Puesta Del Sol, or The Sunset. The narrative is both a love letter and thank-you letter in the form of a voicemail to Medranda's grandfather who passed away during her junior year. The night before a big cross-country race, she had one message for him.

“The last thing I told my grandpa before I went to bed ... I was like, ‘I will do really well. I’m going to come back tomorrow. I will tell you about my race. It’s going to be great,'" said Medranda. "And he was like, 'Yeah you got it.'"

But racing was the furthest thing from her mind the next day. Her grandpa passed away just hours after Medranda had said goodnight. And not only did that race not go well, but the rest of season was a disappointment for her.

Now, however, she’s come to see that so-called “failure” differently. She has embraced the message he left with her — that the only real failure is not trying. His passing led her to pick up her camera, pursue filmmaking, win a film festival award, and get into her dream school.

"Even though that was a failure to me, I do believe that I’m doing well and succeeding," said Medranda. "And without him passing, I wouldn’t be where I am right now."

Where she is now is a city and place that’s as exciting as it is intimidating: 3,000 miles from home, in the midst of a global pandemic. But that choice to challenge herself has led her to accept and overcome this isolating and distant situation she and so many first year college students are in.

“Nothing is certain," said Medranda. "The only thing that’s certain is your mindset and who you are. So you’ve got to stick with that."