Monday morning, I awoke to the sound of the same alarm that has jolted me from sleep every day of college at Georgetown. Eyes still bleary from accidentally sleeping in my contacts, I fumbled around my room trying to squeeze the last of my essential belongings into my carry-on bag. Despite my best efforts, my stuffed animal did not fit.
It’s the stuffed animal that my mom gave me on the first day of my freshman year at Georgetown. My friends and I have tossed it back and forth during pre-games in crowded dorms. It’s been hurriedly shoved under my pillow as I, embarrassed, tried to hide it from various first dates. It’s soaked up my tears over fights, breakups, finals, and — now — goodbyes.
I left a lot of belongings in my apartment Monday morning. In the confusion of the “virtual courses” and “mandatory move-out,” I couldn’t decide what to bring and what to leave. Unanswered questions overwhelmed my thoughts, leaving me unsure when I’d next be in this room. Would I be returning to campus for a graduation ceremony? Graduation aside, should I come back and attempt to recreate senior spring with the few classmates remaining? How many of my friends were even staying?
When I numbly left my home at Georgetown, I was leaving behind all that I associate with college — my closest friends, my a cappella group, my job, respected professors, cherry blossom filled walks across campus, late parties on a crowded rooftop, and, yes, my stuffed animal. Such a cherished chapter of my life was brought to a sudden end.
For many of us college students — seniors especially — this pandemic has provoked unsettling confusion. The virus is so novel and so unknown that even world leaders and health officials cannot ease the world’s panic. There is no clear path forward, no distinct timeline detailing how long this will last. Only one thing is certain — quarantine now, then wait and see what happens.
The class of 2020, like anyone who has graduated college, has always known that leaving would be difficult. We’ve poured four years of work, passion, and care into our respective institutions. They have shaped us, and we have shaped them. Leaving Georgetown does not just mean saying goodbye to a place. It’s saying goodbye to a community that has profoundly impacted who we are as individuals.
Senior spring is the time for goodbyes. These final weeks winding down to graduation help us gradually internalize the reality of leaving. The lineup of “last experiences” before our actual graduation day are crucial to processing the painful fact that the most transformative chapter of our young lives is coming to a close. They help us process the finality of our college experience and prepare us to embrace adulthood.
We will no longer experience that last day of class with our favorite professor, that final performance, that last night out with friends at the local bar. Not knowing when we will see each other next makes the process of leaving all the more difficult.
In contemplating my own loss, I feel selfish and indulgent in my sadness given the hardship some of my friends will have to face. This hurried move has a heavy financial toll. For many, the cost of storage and transportation home cannot be immediately procured. Some are international students who have been restricted from returning to their homes. Others do not have secure WiFi at home, and are worried about completing their coursework online. These friends must grapple with the logistics of leaving, all while managing the emotional reality of premature goodbyes.
Processing these consequences — for ourselves, classmates, families, and the world — is naturally overwhelming. Indeed, my own experience pales in comparison to what others around the world have experienced and are currently enduring. It is difficult to find a silver living when the reality of the present hasn’t yet set in and when the future is still uncertain. However hopeless this current moment may feel, I know that, with time, the path forward will become more clear.
My advice to my fellow seniors — let yourself mourn. Grief is natural and necessary to comprehend what college has meant to us, and why saying goodbye is so very hard. I take comfort that the profound sadness I feel in saying goodbye is, after all, a reflection of the happiness I’ve experienced here.