By Emily Kressley | Photo by Patil Khakhamian
Fourth Tuesday is always tough, but this last one was nearly impossible. Students all over campus anxiously awaited an email that would determine if they were packing a carry-on size bag for spring break or boxing up their entire rooms, and if their goodbyes were for the next 11 days or for the next six months. Colorado College followed suit with the rest of the country, a smart and safe call, to move to distance learning. When the email finally arrived, I cried. While I tend to be optimistic and being on campus for Block 8 was still a possibility at the time, seniors understood that this could very well be our last, normal night together on campus as undergrads.
The next day at noon, we assembled at the flagpole for champagne showers, a bittersweet tradition for seniors on the last day of classes.
“It was the last thing we could do,” said Finlay Bressler ’20, one of the organizers for the impromptu gathering that came two months early. “Graduation parties, commencement, everything was going to be cancelled. That was kind of the only thing I could think of doing.”
The hours between the late afternoon email and class the next day were hectic. No one knew if they should be studying for their final, packing, or spending time with friends.
Since that day, Block 8 has also been moved online, and graduation postponed to a later date in the undetermined future when large group gatherings become safe again. While certainly the responsible and necessary decision by the college, it is, in a word, a bummer.
“You were looking forward to presenting your theses; performing in theatre, dance, and music; competing on the field, court, and track; researching in our labs and library; showing your art; dancing at Llamapalooza; and much more. And I know that you wanted to be together as this special chapter in your lives came to an end,” read an email from college President Jill Tiefenthaler on March 31.
Despite the abrupt end to the year, many seniors are still living in Colorado Springs because they have off-campus leases. “I stayed at CC because it seemed safer to not travel home if I didn’t have to and because of the uncertainty of when I would be able return if I did leave, as well as if I would be able to see my friends again,” said Paige Shetty ’20.
Colorado College has become our lives in the past years, and it takes more than the 24-hour time frame provided to say goodbye. While federal and state guidelines mandate stay-at-home orders and social distancing, there are still opportunities to interact with housemates that serve as a family unit, and friends from afar.
Elise Glaser ’20 stayed at CC “because A, I know I have the privilege of packing up and driving home whenever I decide; B, I know I will have to return home at some point but these next two months are the only time period left I am guaranteed to live with and see my friends; and C, coping mechanisms are more acceptable in the ranch [her off campus house] than [they] would be in the Glaser household.”
Emily Dodds ’20 echoed the same sentiments as Shetty, but added, “Now I am considering returning home via car at some point because I am having anxiety being away from my family at this time.” There is no right place to be, and these decisions don’t come lightly.
While senior spring is a time we dreamed about and cannot get back, it does no use to focus on the negatives. As small as they are, you can almost always find some new positives to a situation, whether it be tackling a new book or a sourdough starter.
“The silver linings,” Glaser said, “are [that] low job prospects and no extracurriculars have forced me to slow down, and slowing down is not encouraged by the Block Plan, so I’m finally getting time to do little projects and have quality time with my house.”
Isabella McShea ’20 agreed with Glaser. “Just slowing down in general has been huge and a real chance to take mental health seriously.”
While downtime can be a great time to start a new hobby, it’s also just as valid to binge watch a new television show and not feel guilty at all. The world as we knew it, as we expected it, disintegrated in a matter of days. While it’s important to have perspective and recognize degrees of privilege, it’s also OK to grieve what comes down to a loss. Graduation was always going to be difficult, but when the rug is pulled out from under you two months early, it’s understandably hard to process.
Especially as students on the block plan, we feel compelled to make the most out of every day. However, the circumstances can make it hard to stay focused, or even have the motivation to do so. Online classes are also an extreme adjustment for both professors and students, no matter how dedicated.
“I strongly feel like we should have no homework on weekends,” said Shetty. “During the week, I can handle work, but I feel like we should have some designated time to not be focused on work, for ourselves. Maybe that’s just my block, but I feel like that’s getting lost in online distance learning.”
The pandemic has done more than dampen blowing off steam and canceling long anticipated rites of passage for May graduates — it has caused a great deal of anxiety for what post-graduate life entails.
“A lot of my interviews were postponed indefinitely, so I’m simultaneously anxious about not having a job lined up, but also finding peace in the fact that it’s out of my hands for the time being,” said Glaser.
The failing economy and historic levels of unemployment make it a difficult time to enter the job market, as entry level hires feel the most dispensable. Glaser noted that she was “extremely grateful that I can still be financially supported and housed by my parents until I do find something.”
McShea agreed: “I’m feeling super grateful that I can just drive home, and that if I don’t have a job right after graduation, it isn’t the end of the world.”
Coronavirus is one of the most widely felt disruptions since the World Wars. This article isn’t meant to sound ungrateful: we aren’t being drafted, most of us are not front line warriors like doctors, nurses, and first responders just yet, and young 20-somethings are not of a particular concern health-wise. But it doesn’t mean we’re immune to grief, loss, and other anxieties for loved ones and the way world events are transpiring. But like many others in the world, we have experienced an unexpected loss, and paired with the uncertainty of how we will rebound, where we will be, and when we can celebrate our accomplishments together again, it is a lot to digest.
Colorado College has sent out a survey for seniors to get a better idea of how to properly recognize the class when things return to normal. In the informal senior Facebook group, many expressed the desire to postpone things so we could be together for a physical ceremony, keeping in mind how different barriers affect different members of our class such as cost, travel, housing, and visas.
But at the end of the day, it’s about the people. “The people are what I’ll miss most,” said McShea. “Blocks 7 and 8 are big outside blocks and we meet so many people. It’s just sad to not know what that could have been.”
“I know this is incredibly, and understandably, disappointing, and not what any of us wanted. I was so looking forward to my last Commencement at CC and “graduating” with the Class of 2020,” said Tiefenthaler in an email. “Yet this crisis calls us to think beyond what we are losing as individuals and to instead do our part for the world.”
While it is difficult now, everyone is being affected in a different way, and now more than ever we must support one another in the context of our larger communities. And while our time as undergrads is coming to a quiet end, there’s always homecoming to make up for that.