When March arrived, after a long slog through midterms and papers, the only thing most college students like me were thinking about was spring break. We left campus, saying goodbye to our friends but with every expectation that we would be back in another week. Then our only care was getting tan and getting geared up for the last few months of school—papers, finals, and for some of us, graduation.
Suddenly news began to trickle in that we would not be able to go back to school right away and, moreover, the chances of our going back at all looked dim. I won’t share what happened next because we all know what hit us.
The one thing I think everyone has failed to recognize, however, is just how much this affected the young. I know others are suffering. Some have lost jobs or loved ones. Others are struggling to keep a business going or to homeschool their kids in the midst of this chaos.
But as a college student and athlete I lost the chance to fully engage in the classroom; I lost my athletic season; I lost summer study abroad plans that I had worked and saved money for; I lost my job; I lost my sorority initiation; I lost formals; and I lost the ability to see and enjoy the people in my life who I had become accustomed to seeing every day.
Suddenly, it was like everything in my life, everything that a normal college student should be doing, was pulled from me. We were told we had exactly one week to schedule a move out day from our rooms. I will never forget the disconcerting sight of panicked students dumping their belongings because they had no place planned to store them and they were so suddenly uprooted. I could not believe it was actually happening. It felt like a bad dream.
Our first instinct when this all happened was to cling to the hope that, at some point in the coming weeks, we would all be able to see each other again. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad to move classes online and we could go back to something more normal soon.
But it did not work out that way. We are now in April and we are still unsure of what will happen, even within the next week.
It is not just me though. There are so many young people who feel this fear that things are never going back to the way they are supposed to be. There are so many seniors who were stripped of their “lasts,” young adults who intended to get married but now are unsure, and so many scared college students who fear not being able to find jobs in the economic aftermath of this shutdown.
The worst part of this all is that so many media outlets and older adults are quick to put the blame on young people or at least to begrudge us our complaints. Of course there are others who have it worse, but they also have more experience than we do with crises. What of us? Yes, some were going to the beach and partying in Florida, but at the time they knew about as much about the disease as other Americans at the time, and that wasn’t very much. We still don’t know much, in fact. And the last few years have not exactly encouraged us to place much of our trust in what we hear from the media. At one point, it even seemed like the media were on a mission to find cases of terribly sick young people just to frighten us into submission and silence.
In addition to the many other things that we are learning about ourselves during this pandemic, we are seeing a disturbing testament to America’s inability to be child- and youth-friendly. It feels like there has been no consideration for the youth in any of this. We are to sacrifice our education and endanger our futures without question or complaint. I understand and agree with all the efforts to protect the elderly and the ill, but at the same time are we forgetting that this can’t be allowed to go on and damage America’s future?
I have even heard some doctors arguing for no school in the fall. This should not happen. Students need to be in classrooms. We can not simply say that a generation of students will be sacrificed or left to stagnate in front of screens with Zoom seminars. That is unacceptable.
If this is to the future of higher education this fall, I fear that many college students would rather drop out. Man is a social animal and the soul of a school is the interaction between students and faculty, both in and out of the classroom. If this social aspect no longer exists a substantial amount of students will lose hope and interest in their studies. It may be fine for some students to learn on their own in this way, but it is not representative of the majority.
As I think about the coming summer, I pray every day that I will have the ability to work on my campus as I had planned. I pray that I will get to experience the joys of summer—stick my feet in the grass and the sand, feel the warm sun on my face, watch fireworks on Fourth of July, eat a hot dog, but most of all that I will be able to share a smile and hug with my friends once again.