How do you feel about graduating?
I have been asked this question almost every day for the past couple weeks leading up to graduation on May 22. To be entirely honest, I am not quite sure how I feel. As someone who is graduating early after three years, with COVID-19 sending me home for almost a year and a half in the middle, I have certainly not had the “traditional” college experience.
However, this holds true for many of my friends and peers, and I believe that we have grown an exceptional amount by collectively persevering through these unprecedented times. Even from the perspective of someone who spent a significantly reduced amount of time on campus, I believe that my time at Hopkins has been incredibly rewarding, eye-opening and memorable.
Having primarily focused on academic coursework and research projects during my time online at home in Wisconsin, I actively tried to reach out and be more engaged with campus happenings and cultural and faith-based student groups during the past year being on campus. Internally, I recognized that this would be my final year in college and I sought to make the most of time with my friends and together do activities that I had not had the chance to do in freshman year or during the pandemic. While classes were still the main priority as a full-time student, I came to better appreciate how to establish a balance between a social and an academic life.
I found myself playing football on Friday nights with the boys and exploring restaurants with new friends. Even trips to Brody Learning Commons became something of a social activity (when I didn’t have upcoming midterms). I was not explicitly trying to check off items from the proverbial “Hopkins bucket list,” but I was consciously trying to explore new parts of the city, give back to those around me and make shared memories.
Helping to form a registered Pakistani Students Association and contributing to the in-person return of the Hopkins Muslim Association and its Ramadan events were incredibly rewarding, and these experiences allowed me to not only make new friends and serve these communities, but to also interact with other various students groups on campus.
I saw this shift in my mindset even in my co-curricular experiences, such as volunteering at a low-income clinic in Baltimore and conducting research on campus. I realized that I was making a concerted effort to maximize the time I could spend contributing to these projects and initiatives, as I was not sure when I would be able to do so in the same way after college.
Having been privileged to be surrounded by exceptional friends with whom I have had some reflective conversations in the past few weeks, I realized that perhaps I more fully live in the moment now. I am generally someone who aims to plan out my work and goals, but after experiencing unprecedented times and enjoying the random spontaneity of college life this past year, I am more willing to live in the moment and trust the process for the future. I am grateful to my Hopkins experience for teaching me that and for allowing me to realize that is what we are here for: to find our individual styles of living and to grow by approaching challenges without fear, learning from them for the future.
So how do I feel about graduating? It is certainly bittersweet, but I hope to cherish the memories and lessons I have gained for the future. I will certainly miss the people I have shared these experiences with, but the memories will stay. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it might be that the world is more connected that we believe and we should preserve and strengthen our connections with one another.