This time two years ago, I was one month into my college experience: finally knowing my way around campus, falling into more established friend groups, and thinking I had this whole college thing figured out. Flash forward 24 long months, and I’m on the same campus, walking the same routes to class, saying hi to the same people in the hallways (albeit through masks)— but I am not the same person I once was.
The COVID-19 pandemic rocked, and is continuing to rock, our entire world – everything from health, to culture, to the economy, to even the basic ways we interact with others has shifted dramatically. There’s no sugarcoating COVID: over four and a half million people and counting have died from this terrible virus, and a shockingly disproportionate amount of those deaths were people of color, those from low-income backgrounds, and those from developing countries. This is an appalling tragedy, a horrible catastrophe unlike anything we’ve seen in the modern era, and the effects of COVID-19 extend far beyond the CDC’s statistics.
Every individual who is living through this historic time has seen far-reaching changes in every aspect of their lives, and for many, even within themselves. As a college student, the entire way I lived my life and everything I thought I knew about the world was turned upside down in March 2020, and likely will never be the same again. For a year and a half, along with my peers, I listened to lectures via Zoom, adjusted to living at home with my parents again, worried about the fate of my academic and professional careers— and the world at large. Everything happened so fast, yet so achingly slow at the same time. It took finally returning to in-person college for me to realize what a profound impact the pandemic has had on me as a person.
Going from being cooped up in your house for months to living on a campus alongside more than 12,000 other students is a complete 180, to say the least. The transition has not been all smooth sailing, and I can imagine many students are struggling with the abrupt adjustment back to “normal” school again (or at least, as normal as possible for the time being). But as I reflect on where I was two years ago and where I am today, I’m relieved to realize that I am a different person.
Eighteen months of loneliness has made me value every moment I get to spend with friends and family. Eighteen months of anxiety and worry has made me appreciate my support systems that much more. Eighteen months of bad news has made me ecstatic at any sign of positivity I can find. Eighteen months of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed my perspective— and I would like to think, for the better.
While I may have thought I had things figured out as a freshman, I’ve come to realize no one ever really figures it out. A global pandemic, a sudden career change, an asteroid careening toward Earth— we never really know what’s going to happen and the trajectories our lives will take. We can plan and prepare— take these classes and connect with those people— but we also have to accept what unforeseeable circumstances come our way. When something as dramatic and life-altering as the COVID-19 pandemic occurs, we have to take it at face value and learn from it— because that is the only way we can continue to grow and change.
So, for the other college students out there, and for anyone coming out on the other side of this pandemic reflecting on the past two years: pat yourself on the back. We’ve all changed— physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally— and that is a good thing. We have new perspectives, we are stronger and more resilient, and we are ready to take on whatever next obstacle life throws our way.