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Starting College in a New “Normal”

Mornings are rough. Getting up for my 8:00 am Spanish class just to yawn my way through the alphabet was not supposed to be the highlight of my first semester of college. It was supposed to be waking up to my dormmate burning ramen noodles in our microwave, getting lost trying to find my history class, or finding the perfect place on campus to cry. It was not supposed to be during a global pandemic.  

The reality is mornings, for me, are rough. I wake up right at 7:55 am, panic a little before grabbing a pop-tart, and opening my laptop. I learned quickly that many classes could just be shared PowerPoints and the agony of breakout rooms, but in these tiring times, I find myself fantasizing about what might have been. 

I think about this one girl – another first year - in my 8:00 am Spanish class. I think about how on the first day, after introductions, after we are dismissed, I would have approached her. Smiling from ear-to-ear, I would have asked her what’s her next class. We would gasp, realizing we’ll be in each other's company a little longer, walking shoulder-to-shoulder as we made our way together. I think of the conversations we would have: the promises over lunch, the rants over dinner, the yawns over breakfast.  

There will be none of that. Instead, we are teased with the idea of camaraderie. Staring at all these faces on our screens only for them disappear after fifty minutes. No amount of breakout rooms, no amount of group chats, no amount of screen time will make up for in-person bonding.  

Yet, I completely agree with the decision to not be on campus. It would be entirely too dangerous for everyone involved. However, I do not agree with the decision to coerce students to smile and bear it, to forge weak attempts at bonding exercises. While the intentions were good, it is not as simple as placing everything online. No, it is not that easy.  

What is really happening is all students, no matter their year, are being forced to operate normally, ignoring the fact that our families are dying, our government is failing us, and our worlds have fallen apart. Our normal is staring at screens, inviting strangers into our homes while mourning the loss of our lives. With no breaks in sight, what will happen? 

How long will it take until everything piled up comes tumbling down? How many first years will snap? How many students is our college willing to leave behind? I fear that many first years will be overworked with little to no peer support to keep them afloat. Our reality is not the dream that we were sold. It is so lonely, this first semester, and I cannot help but wonder how this will travel with us throughout our college careers.  

For our sake, I hope that things change. I hope that medicine and technology improve. I hope for the sick to be healed. I hope that college will become less lonely, but for now, all I can do is dream about mornings that aren’t as rough.  

Janay Kelley

Rhodes '24

Janay Kelley is a nationally-recognized literary artist and visual artist, specializing in Black Southern themes. Raised in Memphis, TN, her love for the written and spoken word as well as film and photography has expanded into an extension of herself. Her motivation drives from the experiences of her family, Black American culture, and her own life. Using her background in composition and performance, she thrives to provide a personal connection between her work and the viewer. She plans on studying English with a concentration in creative writing and Africana Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN.
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