I Did College Wrong: Fears and Anxieties About Graduating During A Pandemic

As I head into my last year of college, I am riddled with fears about not having enough time with my friends and my dear campus. Did I do college wrong?

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When I watched the class of 2020 lament their lost time last Spring, I was not nervous. I did not think I, a member of the next graduating class, would have to deal with anything pandemic-related anymore. Naive? Perhaps. Blindly optimistic that the “adults” would deal with this virus adequately? Indeed. 

Now, as I get ready to call myself a senior, the last stepping stone to become (in my stubborn mind) a fully realized adult. Soon enough I will be ejected from my college with my degree and, if I am lucky, some free memorabilia to celebrate the class of 2021. I wonder what my memories of my last year of college will be. When I get those emails or calls begging for alumni donation, what will I think of? Who will I remember? 

As I reached out to fellow classmates to talk about our anxieties, I realized we all have regrets and failed expectations. The question I often asked myself — did I do college wrong? — was one they thought of too.

Why I’m scared for my last year of college

Columbia University, NYCI catch myself thinking about my freshman year a lot. It is not healthy to live in the past, I know, especially if that past is ridden with god-awful, cringe-worthy things you did or said. As I sit on the cusp of graduating, I realize just how typical my college trajectory was; I made lots of friends freshman year, ramped up on my extracurriculars sophomore year, struggled with coursework junior year, and head into senior year with a lot of uncertainty. Somewhere along the way, I lost a lot of friends. I think about freshman year a lot because that was when I was most social, most energetic, and most willing to put myself in new and uncomfortable situations. 

I want that self back. Ironic how of all the times I am desperate to meet new people, it is right now in the midst of a global pandemic. 

That is all I really want for my senior year, to develop my existing friendships and maybe even make new ones. I am scared for a lot of things post-grad — the very real possibility of unemployment, realizing my degree was good for nothing, learning enough about this economy to be able to say things like “IN THIS ECONOMY?” — but what I am most scared about is leaving these past four years without friendships I know can withstand the test of time. 

I am scared I will leave college not having made an impression on enough people. I am scared I spent too much of these past few years alone and in my own thoughts, pushing aside acquaintances that could have blossomed into true friendships. 

I am really scared, however, that this is my last chance to make those lasting college friends — the ones you invite to dinner parties in your 30s and the ones you send photos of your children to. 

When I enter the workforce, will I even be able to make friends? Will there be more to talk about than just the standard ails of the office, the crappy coffee machine and the traffic on the way to work? 

Those are my very real, though perhaps very unfounded, fears. I know I am not alone, so I asked a couple of seniors to share with me their anxieties about the upcoming year.

Fears and regrets from my fellow classmates 

There are, of course, milestones we want to reach and celebrate, like turning in our senior thesis and hearing our names called out at the graduation ceremony. The current state of the world — and let’s be honest, the state of the U.S. — left a lot of us unsure about the time we even have left to be physically on campus and with one another. 

Yasemin Ayekan is a fellow international student from Turkey and we are both also History majors. We have traded notes and information about our favourite classes since we started college. For Yasemin, the personal and academic ramifications of a well-written senior thesis is an integral part of senior year.

Yasemin Ayekan, student at Columbia University

She said, “to be honest, I will be continuing my education online and since I will have to write my thesis, I am quite frustrated about how senior thesis seminars will look like online. Also, since I won’t be able to go to the libraries for my research, I am frustrated that I will have problems with my resources.”

Vivian Zhou, my college roommate of two years, worries especially about the possibility of not having a graduation ceremony (sorry, class of 2020). 

“I’m worried they will cancel the graduation ceremony,” she said. “My family has paid a lot of money to this school and degree and although I would say it’s superficial, it’s very important to them and makes it feel like the four years was worth something.”

Vivian Zhou, student at Columbia University

She tells me that she worries that our college community members will disregard coronavirus safety protocols and everything will inevitably shut down.

Mary Marsh, a friend and former co-editor at the school newspaper, feels the same way; “I’m supposed to be going back in two weeks as an RA but haven’t really let myself get excited about it because I don’t want to be disappointed if they suddenly say no one can go back,” she said.  

“I think it’s selfish to fear missing out on social events as a senior due to the coronavirus, for the most part,” said Vivian. “But of course in the back of every senior's mind, including myself, I am disappointed we might not be able to enjoy typical senior-reserved events like senior brunch, or boat cruise, etc in the spring.”

Returning seniors should feel apprehensive about their last year of college, but the tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic only served to heighten our anxieties. As Mary and I chatted, she confided that she feels as if she “did college all wrong.” 

“I guess the pandemic has been making me reflect on what’s most important to me and I feel like I spent a fair amount of time in college doing stuff that doesn’t really matter to me now,” she continued.

She wishes she had taken more classes in Education and had been less susceptible to “groupthink” and peer pressure.

Yasemin said, “I won’t be seeing my friends and not all of us are going to stay in NYC after graduation, so I am agonizing over the time I won’t be able to spend with them both at school and outside school.”

If we could do college all over again, we concur, we would do things differently. We would spend more time learning about what we actually feel passion for instead of regurgitating facts we memorized the night before for an exam to pass a class we don’t care for. 

We would waste more time with our friends doing things that made us feel young and alive instead of scheduling a 45-minute lunch date with them to “catch up.” We would push ourselves to attend those stupid events to interact with more people and talk about art, culture, and politics, instead of mindlessly scrolling on our phones alone in our rooms. 

Mary summed up our collective anxieties best when she said, “I’m most worried that the things that made college most special to me are already behind me, without me really getting to make peace with them being over.”


 

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