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When everything is canceled, what’s left? Pandemic through the eyes and heart of a college senior

I’ll start by stating the obvious: this sucks. No matter who you are, where you are, or what you do, a global pandemic probably isn’t what you wanted out of 2020. For me, just like many other college seniors around the world, coronavirus has slowly but surely taken away not only the “lasts” of my college career, but its crowning achievements, too—a thesis never presented, a senior recital never given, a commencement never attended. I am, to say the least, heartbroken.

My college story is not an unusual one—I chose Carleton my senior year of high school, partly (mostly) because of the house on campus dedicated entirely to the baking and consumption of cookies. As a first year, I was certain of what I wanted out of life—after studying physics at Carleton, I was going to go to LA to try my luck at becoming a voiceover artist. If that didn’t work out, I would have a solid backup plan in physics, maybe get a masters and do some research. I had a plan, and I was stubbornly sticking to it.

As you can guess, my plan fell apart pretty quickly. By the end of my first year, I had decided to double major in music. By the end of sophomore year, I had decided to only major in music. By the end of junior year, I had realized I had no interest in joining the entertainment industry. And as of a few months ago, I had fully accepted that I wanted to remain in academia.

When Carleton moved online for spring term, I felt robbed. After four years of searching, I had not only discovered my love for music, but I had made my first solid strides into composition and performance—and I wasn’t allowed to show them to the world. And when commencement was canceled, I lost the last shred of hope that I could maybe, maybe, get some closure from graduation: an informal mini-recital, an impromptu read-through of my comps. At the very least, I was going to be able to throw my cap in the air with everyone else. And even though we have the promise that the class of 2020 will be honored in the future, that promise seems awfully empty at the moment.

College has changed my life. And that statement rings true for so many others—none of the seniors I know today are the same as they were their first year. For me, the institution of academia has become such an important part of my life. And having such a deep love for academics (while recognizing the flaws in the institution and working against them) makes it incredibly difficult for me to lose the capstones that I’ve worked so hard for during my undergraduate career. But it also makes me want to work even harder during the next stages of my life in academia, and it gives me a deep, deep sympathy for everyone else facing the loss of their own crowning achievements.

Today is hard. Tomorrow may very well be, too. And these are days we might not get back. But when the doors open, and the students and teachers return to school, I will be among them. I will fight to give others the experience I could not have, and I will relish every moment of it.

Like I said, this sucks. But it isn’t weakening my desire to be a teacher. In fact, it’s strengthening it.

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