COVID-19 sent tens of thousands of students back home for their own safety. However, students struggle with losing their college experience being bound to the four walls of their homes and laptop screens.
The freshmen were excited to embark on their journeys of independence and exploration. Their senior year summers were confined indoors away from celebrating their graduations or spending last moments with their friends before spreading across the map. Facetime was the replacement for coffee outings and road trips. Their initial culture shock into a world where they’re on their own and in charge of their future completely dissolved.
The sophomores are stuck in limbo. They’re missing one of their best years to explore new ideas for what they want to do in the future. The freedom to mess up now to and clean it up later felt safer on campus with proximity to the stakeholders. Not as free as freshmen but they still have enough time to figure things out.
The juniors may be the most stressed. Not knowing what lies ahead but in the heat of their studies, being home may not be the best working environment. The time to lock in to major requirements would have been more comfortable at the campus library or local coffee shop but being home was forced to suffice.
The seniors are hurting the worst. They depended on their distance from home to experience adulthood and independence. They were forced to leave jobs or internships because they couldn’t afford to stay in the area. But most importantly, they’re spending their last year away from the place they’re supposed to be before they graduate.
The campus experience was more than just parties and studying with friends. It was a way of life, a particular schedule you stuck to until you returned home for summer. In-person interactions with professors to talk about grades or letters of recommendation created a real bond. The buildings, the classrooms and the dorms provide tons of study locations for finals week.
Of course, campus was also the way students met some of their closest friends. Every memory saved on Snapchat and Instagram have become even more precious being there aren’t many that can be made together. Seniors planned their last year to be full of more moments they can look back on with friends.
Homecoming, Spring Flings and other major events were celebrated junior year without knowing it was the last. Special senior-exclusive events are cancelled. The locations where students planned their graduation photos are restricted. Walking across the stage and tossing your cap in the air in signal of meeting the finish line is now a PowerPoint presentation.
They understand the lives at stake and the conditions the COVID-19 pandemic has come to. But, they also have a right to their feelings of disappointment and grief. This was not in their plans when they applied to their schools. This was not in their plan when leaving school in Spring 2020 semester. The seniors, having worked hard for that simple moment of celebration, are grieving their last chances to celebrate in the place where it all began.