By Susanna Penfield | Illustration courtesy of the Wellness Resource Center
COVID-19 has been a mourning process for many. We have lamented missed opportunities, rescinded jobs, overworked bodies, and lost lives — to name only a few of the innumerable grievances which continue to spread across the globe. As a current senior, I personally have been grappling with all the ways this pandemic has denied our class (and graduating classes all over the world) much of the celebration and closure we came to expect after four years. At this point, it seems redundant and unproductive to list all the unsaid goodbyes, missed shenanigans, and anticlimactic endings; however, these casualties become hard to escape alongside the constant pity being directed towards those of us graduating. I have begun to tally comments regarding the “heartbreak” felt for us seniors, all that has “been lost” to us, how unfortunate we are.
I am not trying to appear ungrateful for this sympathy, nor dismissive of the empathy in which it is grounded. Neither am I negating the fact that we have experienced losses and we are graduating into unarguably unfortunate circumstances. In this context, the class of 2020 is unique. However, in so many other ways, we are simply one group of many entering a transitional and uncertain period in our lives.
Like any other transition, this time presents the opportunity to recognize the benefits of change. In life-span developmental science, getting stuck in life’s grooves has been shown to be detrimental to your cognitive growth. Changes in routine can serve as stimulation to your stagnant nervous systems and allow you to grow new neural pathways. We are leaving college and while, yes, it is momentous in many ways, this transition is not so dissimilar to others. Remember the times we have successfully navigated previous changes. We have all had experiences of up-rootedness, of feeling unmoored or even traumatized. Through each we have developed coping skills that you might not have recognized in the moment but that will prove extremely useful in the future.
Leaving Colorado College does not mean departing from its network. Even though we might be physically and geographically distant, researchers in the stress and coping field know that social support is one of the most significant keys to successfully managing change. Even an online community of people going through similar experiences can give you an emotional boost, as well as some practical tips. Social distancing has allowed for unprecedented human contact and reflection. I personally have spent many happy hours and morning coffees on Zoom, reconnected with old friends and teachers, and been part of many email chains and online publications centered on story-telling and creative expansion during a global pandemic.
I guess all that is to say that the class of 2020 deserves your empathy, but not your pity. Nothing has really been lost to us, just put into perspective. Not to mention that we now get to look forward to a full in-person commencement in the spring of 2021, during which we get the rare opportunity to all reunite only one year after parting ways. We, like so many others, are transitioning. We will be all the stronger for it.