Tomorrow I get my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Since Florida expanded eligibility to all residents 18 years and older on April 5, I’ve been obsessively checking the Walgreens and CVS websites for appointments. I know my vaccination won’t change anything immediately except cause soreness in my arm and maybe some cold symptoms, but the moment feels significant.
Nearly a quarter of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, and by April 19 all adults in the country will be eligible for a vaccine. I know we need a global vaccine rollout in order to stop the spread of COVID-19, and so far the vaccine distribution has been incredibly lopsided in favor of the wealthiest countries, but hopefully this is the beginning of the end.
Yet the country’s “return to normal” means change for me. When August rolls around, I’ll be saying goodbye to my oldest brother as he begins graduate school, attending my middle brother’s in-person graduation from college and packing my own bags to move away from home for the first time. My parents will become empty nesters, though a year later than they originally anticipated. Everything is going to change at once.
The drastic impacts of the pandemic have, paradoxically, left me suspended in time. I’ve been a student at Hopkins for eight months but still feel like a high schooler. I attend classes from my childhood bedroom. I have never set foot in a Hopkins dining hall.
A senior from my town announced on Twitter that he will be attending Hopkins in the fall, and when I expressed my excitement about it, he said he was glad he knew someone who could show him around. I responded, “You’re funny, I don’t know the campus yet myself,” with some crying emojis to boot.
I know my on-campus college experience won’t look exactly as I had imagined it, and moving away from home will be bittersweet, but I can’t help myself from getting excited for next semester. I’ll finally have the opportunity to enjoy small Hopkins traditions like studying in the Hutzler Reading Room or getting an ice cream cone from The Charmery.
I’ll be around my friends who I met online almost a year ago. And as of right now, all but one of my classes will be in person. For the first time in my college career, my professors and classmates will be more than pixels on my computer screen. In the fall, my life will resume.
Despite everything I’ve missed out on due to the pandemic, there are parts of “normal” life I’m not eager to return to. Social distancing recommendations have, for the most part, allowed my social anxiety to take a hiatus. Huge crowds of people have always made me nervous. It wasn’t even about the germs — although now I look back on high school pep rallies and shudder at the thought of 2,000 students occupying a sweaty gymnasium. But I found the noise, movement and potential judgment coming from so many individuals overwhelming and could quickly feel claustrophobic.
It was difficult for me to enjoy concerts or school events. And when I did manage to push my anxious thoughts to the side, I’d still leave with a throbbing headache and a drained social battery. COVID-19 has been awful, and I of course wish the pandemic never happened, but I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t relieved me of that burden.
I’m excited for my next semester at Hopkins, and I’m afraid of it. I know the return to in-person socialization and classes will be jarring. I’ll probably spend the first few weeks feeling homesick and nervous, wishing I could return to my cocoon in Fort Lauderdale. I know myself enough to expect that. But I’m still looking up tourist attractions in Baltimore and making a list of everything I need for my dorm. Change is scary, but I’ve spent long enough avoiding it.
Abigail Tuschman is a freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. majoring in Writing Seminars. Her column documents the ups and downs of her unusual first year of college.