Life amidst a pandemic for Class of 2020

Edited by: Tanmaya Ramprasad

The day that is now in my memory as the last day of grade 12 could not be further from the expectations I had or plans I made for ending high school. A year later, I am sure a lot of my fellow first-year university students feel the same way.

The past year has been a unique journey for each of us. To me, it has been a year filled with transitions. Starting the first year of university has its own challenges and doing it in a pandemic over zoom classes is an entirely different experience. It is easy to feel isolated, and hopeless while not being able to connect with peers in the same way one would under normal conditions.

As we are living through this pandemic, we have all had to face new challenges and have adjusted to the new normal in our own ways. As we passed the lockdown anniversary in Mississauga a few days ago, I wondered how all my fellow first years have been doing. I wanted to know how their experiences have been, with graduating amidst a pandemic and attending universities from their living rooms. So, I asked them some questions and here are the answers I found:

  1. 1. How was your graduation/prom experience?

     Most students did not have any graduation or prom due to the pandemic. Fatima Hussain, a first-year student at the University of Toronto, Mississauga (UTM) shared how she always looked forward to prom and graduation. To her, prom marks a big transition phase in our student life, as we are saying goodbye to our high school years and welcoming a new stage in our life. I absolutely agree with her and so did other first years with whom I had the chance to talk. It would have been great if we could commemorate our journey so far with a nice celebration.

  2. 2. Which university are you attending and how has your zoom university experience been so far?

     I got a chance to talk to Jasleen Sekhon, who is a student at the University of Manitoba (UofM). I could absolutely relate to Jasleen as she said, “It’s been tough. I don’t have a lot of motivation and there’s plenty of distraction”. However, Tayba Mohammed from McMaster University reminded me, that these trying times have not been without glimmers of kindness as she said, “In my personal experience, the professors have been very accommodating”. I agree with her. I think professors and teachers understand the difficult time we are going through, and I am grateful for the extra effort they are putting in to make our experiences as smooth as possible.

  3. 3. What is one thing you missed out on because of zoom university?

    Most students were disappointed about not being able to be on campus and meeting new people, a sentiment I share with all. Frosh week and orientation were two things I was eagerly looking forward to. Fatima captured my feelings exactly as she said, “It has been challenging because it is very hard to adapt to online learning. It has also felt very isolating. It doesn’t feel like I am in a real classroom. Something I was looking forward to, was actually going into big lecture halls and sitting in class with other students and having the professors give the lectures. That might not seem very exciting, but as a first-year student, I was looking forward to that whole experience. With zoom, it’s not the same.”

  4. 4. Is there something you feel like you struggled/aced at zoom university?

    Struggling with staying organized and focused during classes was echoed by all students.

    “Just paying attention in class is very hard. Making sure I am going to classes and am not watching the recordings the day before the test. With in-person classes, there is a set time, and we go to it and that’s it. It’s a good thing that online learning is flexible, but you also have to be very responsible and make sure you stay on top of everything.” ~ Fatima Hussain.

    However, there are also some perks to zoom university as one student said, “Loved not having to run from class to class”. I absolutely agree!

  5. 5. What is one thing about zoom university that you are grateful for?

    Most students were glad to save commute time and were happy to spend more time with family. Fatima highlighted another important point as she said, “I am grateful that we still get to learn. There are sometimes when I feel like, “I really don’t want to do this assignment” but doing homework is kind of keeping me going right now. Like, there are still classes to go to, something new to learn or assignments I can work on - stuff to keep myself busy with.” I agree with Fatima and I do not think I appreciate enough how lucky we are, to still be able to make positive use of our time, as we get to learn something new every day.

  6. 6. Are you excited to be on campus this fall? Or do you prefer zoom university?

    It is safe to say that everyone was excited with the thought of being able to go to campus (when possible). However, it is also going to be a transition that will take some time to get used to. Fatima agreed as she said, “It’s going to be hard to go back to in-person classes and having to wake up early and actually getting ready to go, and to take the bus. I feel like it will be a big transition to go back to in-person classes, and I never would have thought that would be something challenging. But reflecting on online university and based on how I am living my life right now, I feel like it would definitely be challenging to go back to in-person classes. But I am looking forward to it. I feel like when we do go back, it will be like I am in first year all over again.”

  7. 7. What is one you’ll always remember from this experience?

    I was glad to hear from many students, that they would remember the kindness they received from their professors and teachers during the past year. We are all going through a difficult time and any kind gesture can mean a lot, even if that is a few words of kindness.

    Tayba (McMaster) said, “ It was a struggle for everyone, so there’s a sense of connection where everyone, more or less, gets what you are going through.” This is very true. There’s a sense of solidarity and I think these years would be saved in all of our memories with some interesting emotions attached to them.

    That being said, the pandemic has taught us all some important lessons. And Fatima’s response made me look at this whole experience from a different perspective as she said, “I am grateful because the experiences from the past year have made me feel capable of going into a new situation. I have learnt how to familiarize myself with it, and learn how to deal with it, and how to cope with it. Change is something that has always scared me. And looking back at all these, I can say, “Hey, you are doing this, and you’ll do it.” That makes me feel better. I feel like I can apply that later in life when I want to try new things.” I think this is absolutely true and it applies to all of us.

We have all gone through big changes in the past year and I think we should all celebrate the personal growth that we have been able to achieve. The fact that we are here after one whole year of chaos and uncertainty is no small feat, and we should all be proud of our selves.

This brings me to my one great idea, Class of 2020, I think we should all throw a giant world-wide prom once the situation becomes safer. I would be more than happy to meet all of you out there who are navigating and surviving through these difficult times!