Two years ago, a friend of mine from my hometown asked me how it felt to be halfway done with college. Did I feel old? Had the time gone by too fast? Was I happy to be (somewhat) almost done with school for good?
I had to think about it for a second. I was 20 years old; no longer being a teen was pretty scary. I stopped feeling nostalgic for my high school days after freshman year and, after two years, I finally felt like I had gotten into the swing of being a Southern California girl on the East Coast, thousands of miles from family and childhood friends.
It felt weird, sure, but honestly, I didn’t feel too old yet. For me, so much had changed in my first two years that I knew I would be in for some adventures my last two years as well. That freshman feeling, that this world of opportunity lay in front of me, wasn’t quite gone — I still had things to do, people to see and a long list of things to finish before it was my turn to wave goodbye to Baltimore, and I had two full years to finish.
And, with that, you probably know where this is going. Senior year (and a fourth of junior year) during a pandemic. I, like the rest of my classmates, didn’t have quite as much time to finish as we thought.
Sure, we finished the important things: We were fortunate enough to have the technology available to finish our classes online and earn our degrees. During a time of pain and suffering for many, I know I’m one of the lucky ones that the end of college being weird was one of the biggest hardships I had to face during this objectively terrible time.
But I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t break my heart that I missed out on the objectively “less important” parts of college. The long nights writing code in my friends’ apartments, hosting game nights for my clubs on campus, losing intramural basketball games and TA-ing my sophomores in Clark Hall. Even studying in the UTL, eating the turkey burger at Levering, taking the JHMI to Peabody and picking up a copy of The News-Letter on the Breezeway just to find my story published that week. That stuff won’t matter for graduate school resumes or future employers, but it matters to me.
Those are the things that kept a mundane life of midterms, problem sets and Python code meaningful — that gave me the motivation to get out of bed every morning and keep studying and working hard day after day after day. I wanted to keep making these memories during my last two years of college; I wanted to finish this roller coaster of a story I started.
In the context of college students, we could go on and on and on about who had it the worst. Was it the current freshmen, who missed out on the end of their senior year of high school and their freshman year of college? The Class of 2020, who left campus with no closure, no goodbyes and little certainty in their first year in the “real” world? Or was it us, the Class of 2021, who thought we missed a bullet when graduation got cancelled last year only to realize that, for the rest of our time here, the Hopkins we had known for the past 3 years was gone?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t change anything, but even that doesn’t keep us from arguing over these trivial things. Many of my younger and older friends have told me that the Class of 2021 won the “Most Screwed Over” prize. But despite the sadness I've felt through this whole situation, I think I have to respectfully disagree on this one.
My freshman and sophomore years were not all rainbows and butterflies, nor was my pre-COVID-19 junior year. There was always a midterm, always a deadline, always something on my calendar that kept me in focus mode. But despite the nights of insomnia, imposter syndrome and course-related stress episodes, I still felt like I was coming into my own.
Things were never great, but they got easier over time. I began sleeping more and stressing a little bit less. I started finding groups of people that I felt I could trust and rely on, and even though I’m still not a Baltimore expert after four years, I began to find myself wandering outside of the Hopkins bubble a little bit more every semester.
Senior year being (basically) online was heartbreaking to me because I felt like I had been making slow but steady progress in finding my place. After nearly three years on campus, I finally felt like I had built something to miss, something meaningful outside of schoolwork to finish up on and enjoy for my remaining time at Hopkins.
I don’t think my story got the ending it deserved, not even close. But through all the angst, stress and bitterness of our pandemic school year, I can still find some comfort in the fact that I was able to experience pre-pandemic college as much as I did to even have a meaningful college story to begin with.
I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn't change the past to experience college as every other class pre-2020 did if I could. It hurts that I’ll never be able to finish the story I had started as I began to come into my own during my time at Hopkins. But I’d rather have the last chapter of this story I built for myself at Hopkins ripped out than have the regret of never starting any story worth reading at all.
And none of that is to say that my senior year was a complete wasteland. Sure, I am 1000% tired and Zoomed out, but I was able to find some joy through all the weirdness with reunion Zoom calls and a couple of good friends/roommates. The timeline of the vaccine let me branch out a little more in the last few weeks, and I’m beginning to feel some closure that I didn’t really think I’d get to experience through some final Baltimore outings and lunches with those I haven’t seen in over a year.
So yes, senior year was not even remotely close to being ideal. But I did my best with what I was given, and I can honestly say that I’ll have some pretty good memories of my senior year to reflect on, just maybe not the ones I had previously envisioned.
My college story will never not feel incomplete. But I’ll jot down the best ending I possibly can to replace the ripped out pages I’ll never read, close that book shut and place it on the shelf. It’s disappointing, but although it’s hard to see it now, I know there'll be plenty of other books for me to read and write in the future. My life as an author is just beginning, and my library is nowhere near full.
My sincerest congratulations to you, the Class of 2021. Thank you all for being a part of my Hopkins story.