When I first heard of COVID-19, I didn’t think too much of it. I figured that it would never make it to the U.S., or that we would be able to control it once it got here. It wasn’t until I came back from spring break, when I got an email from my university telling me to move everything out in three days, that it became real.
The coronavirus has affected many things, one of them being higher education. Millions of students have been sent back home with little notice in the past couple of weeks. Though it’s hard for everyone, it’s hitting seniors the hardest. As a soon-to-be college grad, I have felt the devastating effects of losing the last months of my senior year.
More Than Just Book Learning
College is more than just the classroom education you receive. It’s the first time for most young adults to experiment in the “real world” while still having a safety net. It marks a new independence and autonomy while students navigate how to organize their time, deal with a variety of social situations, and learn financial responsibility, among other things.
The education you get goes beyond the classes for your major; it’s the beginning lessons of adult life. Many students find themselves at college, exploring different career paths, friendship groups, opportunities, and living situations. In addition to classes, college creates a wonderful niche for students, so we can interact with others in similar places in life.
The education you get goes beyond classes for your major; it’s the beginning lessons of adult life.
It’s important to realize these closures are neither fun vacations nor a small thing. Though there have been jokes on the internet about students having “extended” spring breaks and partying, in reality, we’re really hurting.
For seniors, this is especially difficult. We’ve worked very hard for almost four years, and this was our time to be celebrated. These last months should have been dedicated to finishing up school work, connecting with friends, and having the time and space to make a proper goodbye. Now this has been stripped from us, and many are left dazed by the suddenness of it all. I have had a plethora of emotions during this time, and it took me several days to realize that I was experiencing grief.
It’s a Loss
For one, we have lost our home. When I got the email, I literally felt as if I were being evicted from my home. I frantically tried to find a place to store my things and to buy a plane ticket home before all flights were canceled. Coming from out-of-state, I had to travel another 1,000 miles to get back home, further exposing myself to infection. International students may not even have the ability to go home as more international travel is shut down indefinitely.
The chaos and stress of moving things out gave me little time to find friends to commiserate with and say goodbye to. Everyone has now split up into their respective towns, states, and countries, and it grieves me to think that I may never see some of them again. I cried when I went to my sorority house to pick up my stole and say goodbye to the house mother. I will never get my last formal or my senior ceremony with my sorority sisters.
Everyone has now split up into their respective towns, states, and countries, and it grieves me to think that I may never see some of them again.
The loss of friendship is only compounded by the reality that we must all social distance. I feel isolated more than ever now that I’m home. As with other students in my situation, I can’t even go out and see the few friends I have nearby. I went from a bustling college dormitory life to the loneliness of quarantine out in the countryside of rural Maine. It’s only understandable that college seniors feel whiplash from sudden displacement and isolation.
Some colleges and universities have cancelled graduation ceremonies. As a graduating senior, I can tell you how much having a ceremony means to me. I want my chance to wear my cap and gown, cords, and stole, and proudly march across stage to receive my diploma. My family values higher education, and I wanted them to see how hard I’ve worked for four years. There are some students who are first-generation college students who are now missing the moment to show their families what great work they have accomplished. Others may have taken longer to get their degree and their long-fought-for moment has been stolen from them.
I am lucky that my university still has plans to hold a graduation ceremony even though a date hasn’t been set yet. Others have not been so lucky, and I can only hope that they get compensation for it somehow.
An Uncertain Future
One of the negative side effects of quarantine and social distancing is the loss of jobs. Many students, including myself, were employed on campus. I lost both my jobs on campus like many others. These jobs were important to help students pay for books and tuition or to get work experience. This reveals the unfortunate reality that not all jobs can be done remotely. Graduating seniors are now frightened by where the economy is going and fear that they will not get jobs they desperately need. The once strong economy of mere months ago that had so much promise has all but vanished in a matter of two weeks and may get worse.
Graduating seniors are now frightened by where the economy is going and fear that they will not get jobs they desperately need.
Because of this, seniors in high school and college are now rethinking their post graduate plans. Seniors are now questioning if it’s worth going to grad school. They are wondering how they’re going to pay off their student loans in six months. Some have opted to continue their education to avoid the job market, while others are choosing to take a gap year to weather the coronavirus storm.
This Too Shall Pass
For all students out there, especially seniors, it’s okay to grieve. It’s a confusing time for all of us, and it’s okay to feel sad, cheated, and upset. But, it’s important to remember that this will not last forever. One day the pandemic will end, and we can go back to living our lives. Try to stay in touch with friends and professors through social media. Use things like Netflix Party, Skype, and Google Hangouts to help get you through the quarantine. Write letters to others and be open and honest about how you feel. Eventually the pain will heal.
Though this is not the senior year any of us wanted, we must make the best of what we have. Allow yourself time to grieve and understand your emotions. Make the most of your time by planning for the future and reaching out to friends and loved ones. Be there for one another in this difficult time. We still have the ability to make our last months of senior year memorable, so do what you can to feel happy and stay safe.