The college experience is a special and memorable time in many students’ lives. It’s a time when young adults leave their hometown with the intention of gaining knowledge, maturity, self-awareness, and responsibility. During those four years, many students are granted the experience of living on campus, sharing a dorm, and learning in a lecture hall surrounded by their peers. But the college experience drastically changed in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The Big COVID-19 Announcement
I recall the moment my roommates and I received the email from our college president, extending our spring break for two weeks. At that moment we had no idea that we would never sit in a classroom again — not just the remainder of the school year, but for the remainder of our undergraduate careers. In late March, we parted ways from our off-campus apartment, and headed back to our hometowns. Classes quickly transformed to strictly virtual, and I was left to complete not only my junior year, but also my senior year of college in my childhood bedroom. From the Spring 2020 semester to the Spring 2021 semester I completed all of my classes and coursework virtually.
A Different College Experience
Throughout my academic career, I’ve always considered myself a hard-working and dedicated student. I’m active in class discussions, take pride in my work, and participate in extracurricular activities. I thoroughly enjoy my time in the classroom and the time I spend interacting with my classmates and professors.
However, during the transition to virtual learning, I found myself struggling with isolation, anxiety, and lack of focus and motivation. Not only was it difficult to learn and participate in a virtual setting, I also struggled with how to spend my free time while isolating.
Responding to New Stressors
During my “normal” college experience, I was rarely alone. In addition to sharing a living space, I also ate, studied, and spent free time with my friends. The abrupt transition to isolation and social distancing was a big change for majority of students, and I felt that intensely. In one moment I was spending time with others and feeling the sense of togetherness. The next, I was quarantining and not knowing when I’d see my friends and classmates again.
It was also impossible to escape COVID-19 updates whenever browsing through social media, which took a toll on my emotional health. It was hard for me to acknowledge that I needed to take the time offline, while also feeling like that was my only form of communication with my friends.
Gaining a New Perspective
Overall, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its precautions, the higher education system and community were largely and negatively impacted.
In her graduation speech to the Class of 2021, Vice President Kamala Harris observed, “You now know that you have what it takes to get through pretty much anything. So when you come up against an obstacle, when you experience a setback, and you will, we all do, remember the resilience that you showed this past year.”
I watched this speech after my virtual college graduation ceremony, and was immediately filled with emotions. To have the Vice President of the United States acknowledge the hardships and struggles we as students have faced allowed me to accept that my feelings were heard and valid.
Although I did not have the opportunity to have a traditional senior year or graduation, the lessons I have learned this year will always have an impact on everything I do and who I am.