“DID YOU SEE THE EMAIL?” my daughter texted me this week. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I wondered if it was about spring break; I had heard rumors that some colleges were thinking of not allowing students to leave campus due to fears about COVID-19. I hated the idea — I hadn’t seen my daughter in two months and was looking forward to spending some time with her — but I also understood the motivation. How could the school ensure that no students or faculty would be exposed to COVID-19 during their travels over the break? It would be dangerous to inadvertently bring the virus to the intimate, intertwined campus population.
But, no, spring break wasn’t cancelled. Instead, the entire spring semester was cancelled — what would have been my daughter’s final days of her undergraduate college experience.
After spring break, the college announced, they would instead move to remote learning. The email said that while they would like to bring the students back to campus at some point, they did not think it was likely. Nor did they believe commencement activities would proceed as initially planned.
My daughter and her classmates were in utter disbelief. Initially, they felt singled out. There were no cases of COVID-19 on their campus or in the near vicinity, so why take such a drastic step? At that point, only a handful of colleges were moving to online classes, and most were also giving students tentative return-to-campus dates.
The idea of a cancelled spring break, which days before my daughter and I had feared, now seemed like a great choice when faced with the alternative of her senior year being cut short.
It has been hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that my daughter would be graduating college in a few months. I knew it would be a challenge for her, just like it was hard for her when she graduated high school and went to college.
I remember dropping her off at her dorm four years ago. I can still feel that final hug she gave me as she headed off to freshman activities. Her embrace conveyed her love and her fear; she was scared of the unknown and not sure she would be able to adjust. Part of me wanted to just throw her back in the car and bring her home, but I let her walk away from me, holding my tears until I was sure she was out of sight.
Earlier that afternoon, the dean held an assembly with all the freshman parents. He said, “In four years, if you get back the child that you gave us, we haven’t done our job.”
They did their job, and they did it well. My husband and I dropped off an intelligent and kind young woman who had a lot to learn about the world and about herself. Four years later, my daughter has grown into someone I hardly recognize but whom I admire greatly. She has expanded her wisdom, broadened her views on the world, met fascinating people, and matured exponentially.
But she’s not ready to go yet. It’s like taking a cake out of the oven 10 minutes (or one semester) too early; she’s still a little runny in the center. She just needs a little more time. She was promised a little more time.
Just like high school, she has been dreading this chapter of her life coming to an end. For four years, she has been cocooned, embraced and nurtured on this campus. She arrived timid, but she’s now confident. She was savoring this time, this final semester — when she and the rest of her senior class would finally “rule the school” or at least feel like they did.
She was embracing her classes, squeezing all the knowledge she could out of her professors and classmates. As a varsity athlete, she has been training harder than ever to have a good season — for herself and for her teammates, who are like family. This spring was supposed to be her final season of collegiate competition. Plus, she was appreciating her college community: The bad meals in the dining hall, the late-night studying in the library and just hanging out in the common room.
She knew it was coming to an end soon — just not so soon.
After three and half years, it’s over. She ran her last race without knowing it was her final time on the track.
The class of 2020 — that is how they were ushered in four years ago, and who they were supposed to be. In a few weeks, they were supposed to be celebrating. Hotel rooms have been booked, dinner reservations made, parties planned. There are supposed to be caps and gowns, tears and photos. Until the pomp and circumstance just went poof, and disappeared.
Just a few weeks ago, I said to my daughter, “I can’t believe you are graduating in May.” And yet of course I could.
This recent development, though, I can’t believe. And neither can my daughter, her classmates, or all the other college seniors and their families.
Graduating from college and entering the “real world” under normal circumstances is scary enough. This is not normal, and we have no idea when things will get back to “normal” for the world as we face a global pandemic.
What I do know is that the class of 2020 is a smart, strong, determined and capable group of young adults who want to change the world for the better. They have been asked to do just that — only a little earlier than they intended.
In a March 10 blog post on Grown & Flown, Gretchen Schmelzer Ph.D. wrote, “this virus is not about you. This is one of those times in life, in history, when your actions are about something bigger. They are about someone else. They are about something greater, a greater good that you may not ever witness.”
This situation stinks. It really does. But this is a worldwide issue, and the class of 2020 is being asked to give up a lot for the greater good.
They say it’s better to be safe than sorry, but in this case, it’s both. Being safe is the prime motivation behind the decisions being made. But I am also sorry that this global pandemic has pressed fast-forward on the class of 2020’s college experience.
Perhaps this social distancing will eradicate COVID-19 swiftly and “normal” will return in time for students to go back to campus to finish this semester. And if not, they have already started doing their part to make the world a better place. Although they will never get back this special time, hopefully, a few months from now, we can give them the celebration they have earned.