I left campus at the beginning of March, having no idea I wouldn’t return until mid-June to collect my belongings. All of the clothes and notes and books I would have to get by without for the remainder of the semester are sitting exactly where I left them. The funniest (or perhaps saddest) part was, I had been so proud of how light I’d packed for my week at home.
I left almost everything behind.
I received sympathetic remarks weeks later from strangers on the street when they saw me walking around Chicago in my Boston University T-shirt. They said that they “couldn’t imagine” how I must feel to be stuck at home when I should be experiencing the greatest years of my life. I couldn’t imagine it either.
I finished my last final after frantically emailing my professor when my computer suddenly shut down in the middle of the exam.
I ended my freshman year in college alone in my room.
I waited for an email, an announcement, anything from my school with a plan for the future. When the emails did begin arriving, however, they were filled with vague, unorganized ideas for returning to campus. The lengthy “back to campus” guides were filled with meaningless fluff. Our schools were devastatingly unprepared for this disaster. As students, we just wanted guidance.
Even if we do go back to campus in the next few months, the restrictions on living, dining, and social situations will drastically alter the way we experience college. I recognize the importance of doing my part to maintain social distance, of course, but no matter how mature or logical I may try to be about it, the situation just plain sucks. Sure, I will probably be entering a horrendous economy when I graduate, and I’m spending tens of thousands of dollars on online classes, but right now, all I can think about is what I’m missing out on.
I spent the entirety of high school looking forward to finally graduating and living in a big city, all on my own, finding people with the same interests and priorities as me. It took me a good half of my freshmen year to get started on this process, and in February, once I’d really gotten the ball rolling, it all came to a crashing halt. I had finally found a sense of community, and I was being ripped away from it just as the pieces were finally coming together. There was no way of knowing that this pandemic would warp my entire life, but it’s so hard not to look back and wonder if I could have done anything to have taken better advantage of my time on campus.
I think that’s what makes me so mad. Not upset, or nostalgic, or sad — just angry. It shouldn’t have been my responsibility to squeeze my memories of a year in college into five months. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of students to decide between returning to campus next month and potentially getting sick, or staying home and missing out on everything we’ve looked forward to. There has been so much dropped onto us as young adults, and we cannot even begin to understand where to go from here.
So when older generations ask me what it feels like to be a college student in the middle of a pandemic, or how I’m holding up, I honestly cannot even say. It is unimaginable. Because one second, I’m outraged. Outraged by how horribly the pandemic has been handled in America. Outraged that my next three years at school will be different, all because people claimed it was their American right to go to bars, restaurants, and parties, and refused to wear masks. This anger makes me want to protest and vote and become more educated and get rid of the administration that screwed up so badly and made this situation far more dire than it needed to be.
But then a second passes, and I’m at a loss. It seems like there’s no point. At the end of the day, what can really be done? Our schools want us to come back for the money we give them, the secretary of education doesn’t care about the safety of students or teachers, and the president has somehow made the reopening of schools a politicized weapon. As much as I’d like to think and hope that college students will recover from these stolen months, I truly do not know the extent to which this loss will affect our lives.
One last thing I’d like to mention is the enormous amount of guilt I feel and cannot seem to shake. Thousands of people are dying. They’re losing their jobs and houses. And I have the audacity to complain about missing a few months on campus? As college students, we’re expected to think and act and react like adults, but in some aspects, we’re still just kids. I should be able to mourn the loss of my traditional college experience, but I’m too preoccupied with worrying about how the government that is supposed to protect me is going to screw up next.