Come COVID or High Water, College Is … Happening? - OZY | A Modern Media Company
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because steel sharpens steel.

By Joy Nesbitt

It’s a strange feeling, being a 22-year-old college student and living with your parents full time. There’s some nostalgia. After all, there’s nothing quite like home-cooked meals and reminiscing about childhood. That said, it also feels … stagnant. My schedule is completely different from what it recently was. In a weird way, I’m starting to feel like I’m 15 again. 

In the wake of COVID-19, I and many other college students in the United States were forced to leave campuses to finish the spring semester remotely. Having been at home in the months since then, my classmates and I have entered a period of extreme limbo.

For most of the summer, Harvard has been extremely vague about any plans for the coming semester. Most colleges are opting to err on the side of caution given the skyrocketing number of people in the U.S. diagnosed with COVID-19. While many colleges rolled out a return plan for students in mid- to late June, Harvard students were among the last to find out our school’s plan for 2020 — we finally received notification in early July.

Many of us are having to decide whether to sacrifice our education or our health, possibly even our lives.

The notification informed us that only first-year students will be returning to campus in the fall, while seniors will return to campus in the spring for a socially distanced on-campus experience with remote coursework.

For my friends who are rising sophomores and juniors, this is a huge disappointment. They will have to make decisions about whether or not to continue living at home. Many of them had connected with classmates to rent cheap houses for the semester.

As a rising senior at Harvard, I’m no longer the student I was. The normalcy I used to feel within the campus “bubble” no longer exists, and I’ve been forced to contemplate what kind of world I may be graduating into next year. 

I’ve come to the decision that uncertainty is OK. In fact, it’s part of the college experience regardless of COVID-19.

That said, COVID-19 has certainly introduced elements of chaos that have thrown students into fight-or-flight responses. I’ve been impressed by my classmates’ resilience. Since leaving campus, college students have created films, music, memoirs; they’ve led protests and even become TikTok famous. We’ve been approaching uncertainty with a freedom to try new things, especially since we have no idea what the world might look like after the pandemic.

Moving forward, the biggest sense of uncertainty for students may come from the colleges and universities that have served as our homes during the school year. Harvard has made it clear that most students will not be returning to campus, while others, like Oklahoma University, have allowed all students to return, with in-person coursework.

For those returning to campus, there is the very real possibility that groups of students in close proximity could lead to more, even worse outbreaks. Many of us are having to decide whether to sacrifice our education or our health, possibly even our lives. An international senior classmate has decided to return to the Harvard campus to focus on his schoolwork; some first-year students have decided to take a gap year and wait for a “true” college experience once the pandemic has ended.

I’m disappointed that I won’t have a complete senior year, and that there’s the distinct possibility I’ll celebrating graduation online. But I remain hopeful that my classmates and I will be able to somehow change this tumultuous situation so that other students won’t have to experience the same uncertainty.

Which is to say, this pandemic has altered and even ended a lot of plans, but it hasn’t crushed our spirits. Yet. We have more to do, and if outward indications mean anything we’re getting scrappier doing it. 

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