In a Dark Year on Campus, Some Surprising Glimmers of Light
It was the year of college without the college experience.
No packed stadiums and arenas. No intimate, small-group seminars or serendipitous encounters with strangers. No (or fewer) ill-advised nights of beer pong and partying.
It is not likely, if given the choice, that many college students would opt for the past year of distance, separation and perpetual wariness. Still, perhaps surprisingly, for many students, there was much that was gained as well as much that was lost in their unwanted suspension of campus life during the pandemic.
Madison Alvarado, who graduated from Duke last month, could no longer enjoy the camaraderie of painting herself blue and the giddy tumult of Duke basketball, which to her was as much about community as sport. As companies stopped hiring last summer, she snagged a summer internship only at the last minute and was still job-hunting this year.
But she is grateful for an invaluable lesson in dealing with how unpredictable life can be.
“I was the person with a plan,” she said. “A lot of people are following a preset track — premed, financial analyst, Ph.D. The pandemic put that in stop mode. It’s made me realize that not knowing the next step doesn’t mean my world is going to crumble. I think it made me less scared to face the unknown.”
At the end of this most unusual of academic years, students interviewed at colleges around the country said they would not miss the regimen of virus testing and quarantining, the classes on Zoom, the zero tolerance for straying from prescribed rules, the distance they felt from one another.
“It’s just been a lot of grieving almost — grieving what we could have had,” said Raina Lee, a freshman at the University of North Carolina, who started the year in a dormitory but almost immediately had to move to an apartment off campus because of a COVID outbreak. “My life physically became a lot smaller, just this apartment.”
But for many it has also been a time of self-discovery. Some applied themselves to academics in a way they never would have if offered the familiar buffet of campus amusements. Some bonded with a tight group of friends. Many, like Alvarado, found that for the first time in their lives, they had been liberated from their carefully planned lives and their focus on getting the approval of others.
文／Anemona Hartocollis 陳韋廷／譯、樂慧生／核稿