It wasn’t very long ago when you were enjoying all that your last semester had to offer — picking up graduation gowns, announcing “this is the last time we’re doing this,” every single time you did something for the last time, and enjoying the moments you had left on the campus that became a home. And then, everything changed. With the spread of COVID-19, in-person classes went online, campus residence halls closed their doors, and graduation was canceled.
For most college seniors, the hardest part of this won’t be adapting to the current situation. Instead, it will be accepting the situations that never were — the senior year you were promised, the one you have been working towards. I am not a senior in college — I graduated from Barnard in 2014 — but I have been ruminating on what I would have felt had I been denied the opportunity to commemorae my college experience with the people who helped shape it. And so, class of 2020, I have written what I want you to remember throughout this all, sort of like advice from your older, future self:
You are the class of resilience.
You have braved unexpected change, tolerated uncertainty, and faced the premature end of an era. I believe that you are as strong as the storms you’ve weathered, and what you’re growing through right now will strengthen the person you become in this next phase of your life. Resilience is what happens to us when we face things we didn’t sign up for, and really don’t like, and we power through them anyways. This resilience will forever link you with every member of the class of 2020, creating a bond that you can never lose.
Your disappointment is unique, normal, and completely okay.
Like someone who has trained endlessly for the marathon and is about to complete the last mile, you were heading into the climactic final lap of your years of education. And. then suddenly, the finish line was no longer in sight and all the runners beside you dispersed — no commencement, no more nights studying in the stacks, no senior activities, no more sitting outside with your friends as the warm spring weather fills the air. It is absolutely normal, healthy even, to feel lost, disappointed, and ripped off. Your emotions are valid, and you deserve to feel every ounce of the sadness in your heart right now. You can also know that this unexpected and incomplete ending to your college experience does not take away from the fullness you’ve had over the last three plus years. Remind yourself that the last four years still happened even though your last semester will not unfold as you imagined.
This is a detour, not the end of a road.
It’s disorienting to find yourself back home or with your parents when just a couple of weeks ago, you were living independently at school and visualizing your post-grad life. So what happens next? Will you move out? Will you go back to your college town to find a job? Will there even be as many jobs after this pandemic passes? The uncertainty is real, and it’s okay to have all these questions and no answers. Trust that in time, your next chapter will become clear. This strange limbo will not last forever, and you will pave a path forward towards the life and career that is meant for you. You have not veered off track, this is merely a detour, and you will learn some important things about yourself along the way.
You are getting the gift of learning how to handle life’s abrupt endings.
This will not be the last time in your life that an ending will come before you’re ready. In the face of love and life and being human, we often have expectations of what we’d like, and then things go a different way. Right now, with your sense of incompletion and confusion, you are strengthening muscles that will make you more equipped to bear the brunt of loss in the future. The next time someone you’re dating blindsides you with a breakup, or you get laid off from a job that you love, you will know that you can navigate endings with wisdom and strength— especially the undesired ones. And maybe one day, you will realize that this was the gift of this time.
You still deserve to celebrate.
No matter what happens with your school’s commencement, you deserve to celebrate who you are and what you’ve accomplished. You endured long nights, arduous exams, and immense emotional growth. You left home, struggled with independence, and found your footing. You experimented, failed, and let your curiosity drive you until you discovered your areas of passion. You are a changed person after these four years, and nothing, not even an invisible virus, can take that away from you. (Have you singed up for I’m Still Graduating yet?)