It’s hard not to picture your college graduation day: weeks, years, or even a whole decade in advance. Maybe you grew up seeing an iconic framed photo of your parents on their graduation day, wiping back tears and throwing their cap into the air, youthful, happy, and proud, surrounded by family and encouraged by celebratory shouts. Maybe you’re the first person in your family to have ever gone to college, practicing your walk across the stage, planning your photo opportunity, and imagining what you want that special day to be like – the tears, hugs, kisses, and giggles accompanying the emotional celebration of a new start for your family: proof that their work paid off. You picture your relatives laughing and hugging, your baby cousin posing for a comedic photo wearing your much-too-large graduation cap, and your parents beaming with pride and joy and whispering to each other “we made her!” As remaining months turn into days, you think about your last college photos with your best friends before life pulls you all in a hundred different directions. You start to prepare yourself for goodbyes, anticipating your last shift at your long-term job, your final lecture, exam, and presentation, or your last run around the field as a college athlete. There’s this simultaneous push and pull, as you get ready for the next life shift but take time to soak in every single moment you have left and appreciate your increasingly melancholy memories.
As I sit here and process the academic, social, economic, and political spiral that has unravelled in the past 2 weeks, what surprises me is how much these momentous dreams have faded into the background. It becomes harder and harder to feel bad for myself and my fractured idea of that perfect day, as my television flashes constant news updates about the global surging coronavirus death toll. Every fragment of increasingly catastrophic news builds on the last disheartening update, drawing my attention away from what used to be my entire world: my job as a Lead Cal Day Coordinator and Campus Ambassador, my home away from home in Wurster Hall with my Architecture family, my soccer team, and most of all, my friends that I can’t help but love like a family: worlds that I depended on for my own economic well-being, motivation, happiness, and mental health. None of that seems to matter much anymore, as the entire world struggles to simply stay afloat: as hospitals create ad hoc emergency beds and make life or death triage decisions, grocery stores fight to keep food on their shelves amidst the public panic for those that need it most, and the entire economy tips closer and closer to downfall. In both my cleaning flurries and contemplative moments, I can’t escape the jolting reality: how quickly everything fell, how uncertain the world still is, and how strange our new normal is in a completely virtual world.
However, I find myself wanting to embrace this new “strange,” appreciating the ever-so-small feelings of hope and reassurance that rear their head in times of negativity. Knowing that so much pain exists in the world paints a backdrop: a fearful, confusing scene in which community strength, authentic love, and meaningful self growth can thrive. As a writer, it is with that understanding and embrace of constant confusion that my journal entries remain melancholy: hopeful and positive in their essence, although tinged with an understood collective sadness that exposes how vulnerable we all actually are.
What keeps me hopeful for the future are all the small things: The handwritten notes in my apartment complex offering help to elderly residents that might need it most, the smell of freshly baked bread in my oven on a night that I would otherwise be cooped up in a library studying, and how wonderfully cared for my windowsill plants are these days. From the extra effort my professors put into revamping their entire syllabus for an online platform, to the random texts of appreciation I get from friends across the world, all quarantined and slowly adapting to our new reality, I feel love through the simplest of ways. As I sit here and think about what the next month, six months, or years of recovery look like after this epidemic, what reassures me is that love: that community strength that prevails even in the darkest of times. As I write, I think about the good in this world: What made me happy today? What did I learn today? What am I looking forward to? What can I do with this time that, although is a result of the most unfortunate of situations, gives me time to breathe, reflect, and improve? By verbalizing my thoughts, I can process the most unfortunate situations, decipher what I want to hold on to, and adapt. After all, it’s the smallest moments that truly matter.
Now, as I sit in bed and wrap up this piece, I think about the communities I’ve met here over the last four years. I think about the moments I want to remember, the people I want to hold on to, and the feelings that characterized my experience here. As I mull over these thoughts and process the recent events, one snapshot comes to my mind that overpowers everything: the decoration on my friends’ apartment wall as I left their home to quarantine: A blank wall adorned with carefully cut out letters “Let’s get,” followed by space reserved for rotating words to encapsulate the latest relevant festivities. A spot for “spooky,” during our halloween celebrations, a spot for “zozzled” when we had a number of scholarships, graduate school admissions offers, and job opportunities to be excited about, and finally, a spot for “get through this,” as we said goodbye to what we always imagined our last hurrah to be and watched our best friends move away indefinitely, but comforted each other with our collective confusion and looked forward to our next big group hug.