A year of loss and disappointment: what the pandemic has taken from us

More+than+a+year+of+our+college+experience+has+been+lost+forever%2C+and+the+scary+reality+of+graduating+into+a+pandemic+looms+ahead.

Photo: Lucia Thorne

More than a year of our college experience has been lost forever, and the scary reality of graduating into a pandemic looms ahead.

I remember my last day of normalcy perfectly. I met my friend Natalie for morning coffee at The Thinking Cup, went back to my dorm to say a quick goodbye to my roommate, and took the blue line to Boston Logan where I boarded a Florida-bound flight for my mom’s weekend wedding. The next day, Emerson sent an email telling students that in addition to moving classes online the week before, the campus was now closing down due to an outbreak of Coronavirus cases in the Boston area. I ended up staying in Florida for 10 months.

When the pandemic first began last spring, most people tried to remain positive. After the few thousand positive cases in Massachusetts began to clear up, students would be on campus by September and back to their normal routines. 

At first, the most disappointing thing I came to terms with was the fact that, from now on, I wouldn’t be celebrating any of my friend’s 21st birthdays at The Tam. Now, a year into the pandemic, this sacrifice feels normal. More than a year of our college experience has been lost forever, and the scary reality of graduating into a pandemic looms ahead.

Still, I cannot help but feel nostalgic for all of the things the pandemic has stolen from us. Both long-standing and personal traditions that as college students, we will never get back. 

There’s meeting up with classmates in the library to study together, and then not studying at all. Catching up with friends over a plate of dumplings in Chinatown. Showing support for a campus comedy troupe by attending their late-night shows. A lot of this feels frivolous now, but it’s participating in these things that make our college experience our own, and it hurts to know that some upperclassmen may never experience this again. It’s even more difficult not to blame the people who have shown a lack of consideration by skirting around basic COVID restrictions.

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Just like every other person I’ve spoken to in the past year, the pandemic has taken a lot from me. I had to stop working for several months when the restaurant I worked at shut down indefinitely, eliminating my only source of income. The global travel ban meant that I wouldn’t be able to visit my family overseas—I haven’t seen my father for over a year now, and still don’t know when I’ll be allowed to visit him. Most of my friends have either taken a semester or an entire year off while they wait for the virus to be contained. Many of my peers were forced to adapt to entirely remote internships and job opportunities during the past year, while other internships have been scrapped altogether. In a College Reaction and Axios poll from last May, 75 percent of college students said their summer jobs and internship programs had either been canceled, moved remote, or delayed, and 22 percent of students said they were not planning on enrolling in the fall 2020 semester.

Most recently, I have to accept that instead of heading to a New York City midtown office every morning for my upcoming summer internship, I will be working primarily from the comfort of my apartment, staring at a laptop screen all day. Even after the pandemic, it feels likely that many internship programs will remain in remote format longterm. Upwork’s “Future of Workforce Pulse Report” predicts that one in four of Americans will work remotely by 2025.

The pandemic’s disruption of our daily lives has forced us to re-evaluate both our professional and personal relationships. Having to go months without in-person contact and the regularity of our day-to-day lives ultimately shows us the people who truly care about us. Seeing how workplaces, our friends and family, and our college itself handled the pandemic has revealed a lot about how the people around us, specifically how uncaring they can be. 

I’ve written about how much the public disregard for safety in favor of entertainment has bothered me in The Beacon before. Seeing people I know continuing to partake in activities where correct social distancing is essentially impossible, like bar hopping, dining out at sit-down restaurants, going to theme parks, and partying, upsets me. Even so, a part of me can understand the power of loneliness and isolation that tempted people to ignore the risks, especially as the pandemic has dragged on. 

I’m going to blame this thoughtless decision making on “psychological reactance.” First proposed in the 1960s by psychologist Jack Brehm, psychological reactance occurs when someone feels their freedom is being jeopardized. Because people generally hate being told what to do or how to act, they end up doing the opposite. During a time where so much is out of our control, engaging in the activities that we were so used to pre-COVID feels like a power play. If anything, seeing how many people have been blinded by this selfishness shows how strong the desire for human connection really is, even when it comes at the cost of potential illness or death.

We have a right to be furious at both the government’s handling of the virus and the carelessness of the people around us that caused so many Americans to die. Sacrificing a year of our lives to be in practically the same place as where we started last March, all because people couldn’t follow directions of experts, makes everything feel so much worse.

Knowing that we are all collectively struggling with the same feelings of disappointment and restlessness does help. The pandemic has slashed plans and opportunities for everyone. Even if it feels like we’re failing at life right now, at least we have a good excuse.

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