I never thought that a quick goodbye to my roommates before spring break would be the last time I saw them for the rest of my college career.
By the end of February, the coronavirus had taken hold of the city but none of us believed that it could stop our last semester of college in its tracks. We had already decided weeks earlier that our highly-anticipated post-grad trip would no longer take place in Asia. Our backup plan of going to Europe was not sounding like a viable option either. With increasing disbelief, we watched as music festivals and annual college events were canceled and our group chats were suddenly filled with worried texts from our parents.
None of us had completely accepted the situation’s severity until March 16, when we received an email from the University of Southern California that read, “We made the decision to finish the academic semester online … We have not made a decision about how and when to celebrate Commencement 2020.”
What we know now, nearly two months later, is that graduation will still take place as originally planned on May 15. But instead of an in-person graduation ceremony, we’ll do what many others have done and attend via livestream.
I know that the loss I am feeling pales in comparison to the loss of so many others affected by the virus. I also know that students around the world, from countless universities and from a range of backgrounds, are feeling the same pains. The abrupt changes that we students have faced in the past month did not allow for the closure that we hoped for.
As seniors, we were stripped of a season of celebration and a slow transition into the “real world” that was supposed to be awaiting our arrival. We have looked forward to these milestone moments. We have thought about thanking our professors as we exited our classrooms for the very last time. We have waited to line up, decorated in graduation sashes, next to those we may have never met but with whom we shared a college journey. We’ll never be able to truly have those moments together. Now our anti-climactic closure of college will take place in solitude, at home, in the blue-light glow of our computer screens.
As I complete my college years, taking finals in my childhood bedroom, I feel extremely lucky to be safe with my family and to have the good fortune to finish the semester. Despite all the pain and disappointment, it is nearly impossible to look back on my time spent at college with anything but deep gratitude. Gratitude for the gift that we students have been given to learn and study subjects that inspire us. Gratitude for the community, friendships and lifelong connections we built on campuses that brought us together. Gratitude for the little moments, like walking to class hearing nothing but the music in your headphones while observing the busy student life that often goes unnoticed. And finally, gratitude for a pat on the back for all the work we put in along the way.
While our immediate future looks nothing like the one we had desired, and our first job acceptances and post-grad apartments will come later than we had hoped, the Class of 2020 is going to be just fine. The way our college careers are coming to a close serves as a link between us all. As we share these times with peers from our respective universities and with seniors around the world, we are bonded in ways that will reverberate through our lives.
Sophie Viscardi is a senior at the University of Southern California and will graduate from the USC Annenberg School of Communications in May 2020.