Starting My Business During My COVID Gap Year

By Max Tardif

Just like every other high school senior last year, I could never have imagined that my entire world would change in a matter of only a few weeks. Yet this is exactly what happened in March of 2020. Only three short months earlier I had been accepted into the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University and was looking forward to starting my college experience the following August. When COVID-19 hit my small coastal town in Florida our school was forced to close down only a week before spring break. I remember hearing phrases like “a few short weeks to slow the spread” and feeling hopeful that we would return to school before graduation. As time went on, I began to understand the true devastating nature of the pandemic and realized this was unlike any event that I had ever lived through.

It was this realization and my time at the end of my high school career that ultimately led me to take a gap year before college. This year has truly been a chance for me to grow and get involved in opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced.

As a student, I engaged in several science and technology internships but was also extremely passionate about exploring other subjects such as history and politics. These passions led me to work as an Election Technology Specialist during my gap year at the local Indian River County Supervisor of Elections Office. This job entails operating the ClearBallot election audit system, managing the sever room and firewall, and conducting software maintenance on voting equipment. In a year with a highly contested and partisan election, it was truly inspiring to see the integrity and solidarity of our election officials first-hand. It was a humbling experience to witness the complexity of the election system, and it filled me with pride to know that I was contributing to the civic process within my community.

If COVID-19 has taught me one thing, it’s that you can never have too many people to lean on in school and in relationships. As I went through my online classes, I began to realize that my teachers were some of the most important people in guiding me through the difficult times. This inspired me to start my online tutoring business to expand access to STEM education online for all students. Throughout high school, I volunteered with several tutoring groups including Reading Mentors and Crossover Mission Tutoring. Access to knowledge gives underprivileged students the ability to thrive and enrich the lives of their peers and communities around them.

I have established an Instagram page for my business @sunshinescholarstutoring and am working on developing a business education website with STEM resources. As my tutoring expanded, I hosted over 100 tutoring sessions, earning thousands of dollars of revenue in my first months in business. It is my hope that these platforms will continue to expand and give crucial academic support to others, just as my mentors did for me.

As the pandemic has demonstrated, the world is constantly changing around us, and we must always find ways to adapt. While this year hasn’t gone as planned, my gap year has been an experience that I will truly cherish and will help me to become a more capable entrepreneur.