The future is disturbingly uncertain, yet it’s the only thing to think about. When will things go back to normal? Soon, but also never. This generation of young people will be feeling the effects of the pandemic for a long time and the experience of living through it is going to shape the way they see their lives and the world forever. College seniors — who had their last months on campus and their graduation taken away by COVID-19 and are graduating into an uncertain world and floundering economy — are undoubtedly in a unique situation. Juniors, on the other hand, narrowly escaped that experience and instead have a one-year buffer.
Juniors have been given a unique circumstance. They are experiencing those shocking withdrawals from college which are traditionally associated with seniors, yet they still have one more shot. Three years on campus have felt like all of eternity. Most of us are at a point where our high school friendships have narrowed down to just a few and our college circles are the biggest parts of our lives. We are now geographically scattered, much as we will be after graduation.
Yet, we will return to campus in the fall for a school year unlike any other. It will have been the longest we have ever been apart from our college friends and restarting our normal activities will feel like a reunion.
After returning from online classes, we will likely have less of an itch to pull out our phones under the table. We will know how valuable in-person learning is after our attempted month-and-a-half of awkward Zoom discussions. When assigned a group project, rather than being annoyed with the difficult task of finding a common meeting time, we might just be glad we get to interact with our classmates in person.
After three years in the same spot, college seniors of past years may have been itching to leave campus. Everything they wanted to try was done and every place they wanted to see was seen. The horrible landlord was frustrating, the late nights at the library were exhausting, the same catered pizza at every campus event was bland. That won’t be the case for the class of 2021. We aren’t going to feel like we’ve outgrown our campus because we won’t be taking any moment for granted.
It’s possible that after reuniting with our friends, we will feel like the college students we were before the pandemic. However, given the scale of this event, it’s impact isn’t going to disappear from our daily lives. The landscape of Ann Arbor may feel different with more local businesses gone. We still won’t be at ease, being close to others in large groups. Our personal finances will be in a different place than expected. Sadly, some of our peers and colleagues will be mourning someone whose life was taken by the virus. Everything we do on campus for our final year is going to be at least a little bit different. It will certainly be filled with more gratitude.
Of course, we didn’t get to say goodbye to the seniors in the way we wanted to. That’s one thing that cannot be done over. The class of 2021 had the 2020 seniors by our side for our entire college experience. They are our mentors, role models and friends. Seeing their time at Michigan closed out abruptly without celebration felt personal to us. Our friends who we looked to for advice on future courses, housing and internships are now facing great economic uncertainties. We looked to them to watch how our future might unfold, and they can no longer serve as a guide to us.
Thinking long-term, this generation, mostly Generation Z, is never going to forget what it was like to be a young person during the pandemic. The rapid transition to distanced communication and the uncertain future will be the same memory in the minds of all school-aged young people no matter what grade they were in. The unique position of college juniors is that we have exactly one year left of our education. It feels like everything has fallen apart right at the end, but we have two semesters to piece it all back together again and find some semblance of normalcy. In 2021, we are going to have a graduation ceremony, and it won’t feel like just a formality.
Leah Adelman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.