College has exceeded even my most optimistic expectations. Its independence is liberating, although the burden of responsibility hasn’t fully registered. It’s challenging in the best ways, forcing us out of our comfort zones and making us question why they were there in the first place. Everyone around you is finally finding out who they are and what they want to do with their lives. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
But when that experience shatters in front of you, it’s heartbreaking.
I remember getting the email that confirmed the worst of the rumors about classes being canceled. There were a couple of weeks when everything came to a standstill, but the severity of the pandemic hadn’t fully sunken in.
Being on campus was wonderful then. Memorial Glade was full of carefree students smoking Frisbees and throwing weed. In the background, half-muted laptops played the sounds of tenured lecturers fumbling through Zoom for the first time.
That all changed when my dad drove up to collect me in early March, two days earlier than we’d agreed. It was dreamlike to see his murky green Land Cruiser come rumbling up Durant Avenue.
Moving from a coed dorm with a friend in every third room back to the childhood bed in my parents’ house was not the most freeing transition, to put it lightly.
I remember storming into the kitchen one evening, a few weeks into quarantine.
“Mom, what’s your least favorite mug?”
“I’m sorry, honey, what?”
“I just — I need to break something. Which one’s your least favorite?”
“I, um, well, I guess the old Christmas one?”
I remember the waves of frustration rolling over me and the catharsis I thought the shards of Frosty the Snowman would bring. I resorted to speeding around my neighborhood listening to Lil Peep instead, but the angst stuck with me.
I’m an extrovert. Take your pick of zodiac, astrological or chakra-based personality tests; the dice roll comes up the same. I’m energized and motivated by other people. It’s manifested itself in many ways over the years: in my overdeveloped need to be liked, in my longer-than-I-care-to-admit theater phase and in my self-sacrificing need to achieve.
My study habits were dependent on a community of like-minded, social procrastinators who intermittently buckle down to do the work. That collective, friend-driven productivity was the way I took on freshman year.
But once school went virtual, I had to completely change the way I approached college. The flirtatious glances during class became a hope that a crush would finally turn their video on. Going from rubbing elbows with classmates to sitting in front of a screen for the equivalent of a “Lord of the Rings” marathon every day was exhausting.
Quarantine signified a return to the physical and mental spaces I’d occupied in high school, and not necessarily for the better. High school depression and hometown anxieties all came rushing back, and with a global state of emergency, the weight of it all was crushing.
And still, the hardest part was being alone. The social isolation gnawed away at me in more ways than one. It forced me to wrestle with my deepest feelings and the loss of autonomy, friendship and purpose. It’s a humbling, unflattering mirror.
I felt purposeless, suffocating in the existential fog that filled my bedroom. The self-worth that I had attributed to academic success was dashed when my classes became pass/no pass. The happiness that had come from my newfound self-sufficiency was lost. The motivation that I had found in having close, like-minded friends was now hundreds of miles away.
Hence, the mug. And the Peep.
After a good long sulk, I took stock of my situation. I realized that the people I missed so desperately were going through the same things I was. I leaned on the friendships I had at home and made an effort to reconnect with those I hadn’t heard from.
Slowly, as I found my extroversion, the clouds started to clear.
By letting myself feel the things I felt and then struggle through the reasons why, I came out the other side lighter. And gratitude followed.
I am thankful I am not in high school, elementary school or kindergarten, but that those who are will be safe. I am thankful for the teachers working to stay ahead of the ever-changing technological demands. I’m thankful to have the internet access to make online learning boring, but not unbearable. I’m thankful to go to a school that claims to care about my well-being, not just my tuition. I am blessed to have academic opportunities, however pixelated, and people to share them with. The list goes on.
Quarantine has taught me to fight to appreciate the present. For all the hardship and grief that we have experienced, there is growth right around the corner. There are experiences to be had and relationships to be mended. So, take a look around. Life doesn’t slow down for anyone, even amid a pandemic — we just have to find the courage to put both hands on the steering wheel.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.