My last year as a college student ended abruptly last week.
I started and ended my college career with unanticipated events. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I huddled around a TV with my freshman year floormates at 5 a.m., anxiously waiting for the next president to be announced. My roommates and I were shaking with disbelief when Donald Trump won. Four years later, my friends and I felt shocked and bittersweet that we would not see each other anymore.
Shifting to online classes for a few weeks did not seem like too much trouble. But I never expected the coronavirus pandemic to become a life-stopper for potentially months. D.C. events were being called off, Commencement was canceled, the long-awaited Cherry Blossom Festival was over and my favorite Smithsonian museums were closed. With each cancellation, it felt like things I wanted to do during my senior year were being erased off my bucket list one by one.
The biggest surprise to me was Gelman Library – my former workplace – closing last week. Library staff is always present 24 hours around the clock, so Gelman Library would not close except in extreme cases. After I heard the news, I made the call to pack up my bags a few days early and head home for the last time in my college career.
A few years ago, the prospect of abruptly ending my college life and moving back home would have scared me. But my experience at GW taught me how to handle pressure and make the best out of difficult situations.
I was a timid and sheltered freshman, but I grew to voice my opinions with reason. I learned the most about my voice and identity in college. After seeing the multiple attacks against Asians because of the coronavirus, I knew that speaking up was better than keeping my opinions hidden. I made sure I could support my opinions with research from reputable news sources and engage in open conversations with friends. Ending my college career speaking about Asian-American issues that represent my past and current identity is memorable and meaningful. I might not have been willing to discuss my identity as a freshman, but as a senior, I feel that I know how to speak out about issues that uniquely affect me.
I also learned how to control an overwhelming amount of stress. I balanced multiple assignments and exams during midterms or finals weeks and overcame the mounting stress from those two times of the academic year. There are many instances when I asked professors for extensions on essays as my head nearly burst from stress, but I eventually made sure to take care of my mental and physical health while completing my assignments. My weekly routine of grabbing a drink from Compass Coffee while working taught me how to work the things I love into stressful times. If I felt unmotivated, I would take a Friday off and explore an art museum and work on Saturday instead. Being in college allowed me to learn how to become responsible and explore my interests at once. My experiences in college – even the small ones, like drinking coffee and visiting art museums – helped prepare me for graduating in an uncertain time and finishing my senior year from home.
I felt bittersweet about the possibility of coming home early because I enjoyed my classes and still felt like I had more to experience socially and intellectually in the last few months. I worried that heading home might mean spending hours watching TikTok and being unproductive compared to having a daily schedule on campus. But I have learned to be optimistic about having more time off, and I have used the past week to apply to jobs and create a five-year plan. College was cut short but that does not mean I cannot prepare for the future as well.
In the end, I am wistful that I cannot walk from Foggy Bottom to the Tidal Basin to see the blooming cherry blossoms, graduate on the National Mall or even just walk through Kogan Plaza. But I do believe that the health and safety of the public are more important and I understand the University’s decision.
Even though I will miss my friends, I am grateful for the memories we have together. At the beginning of my senior year, I started vlogging my life as a hobby. I am more thankful for the memories I filmed and can look back on and the new memories I can capture in the days and months ahead. I will graduate on the National Mall in 2021, I can see the cherry blossoms next year and sit in Kogan Plaza even when I am not a student anymore. Senior year might be practically over, but I still have experiences to look forward to.
Jina Park, a senior majoring in English, is an opinions writer.