Essay: As the pandemic reels back, students should take advantage of D.C.

Last week, when a professor in my class asked for volunteers to write something on a whiteboard, my hand immediately shot up. It was an opportunity to be an active participant in the learning experience, which I would not have been motivated to take advantage of two years ago when classes first moved online.

During winter break, the prospect of a normal, uninterrupted semester looked bleak for students. As the Omicron variant led to a dramatic increase in COVID-19 infections, both here in the District and all over the globe, I began to worry that we might return to entirely online instruction, that perhaps we would not get to return at all.

This fear did not come to pass. Thanks to GW’s vaccine mandate and rigorous on-campus testing, we were able to return to the classroom and participate in in-person student organization events after a brief delay at the beginning of this semester. But when we finally got back in the classroom, a glum feeling began to sink in. I’d been in this headspace before: believing the disruptions were finally over during the summer and then having to mask back up in the spring, and then being blindsided when Omicron showed up and seemed to infect nearly everyone in my life.

I couldn’t stop thinking about how unpredictable the world really is, and the pandemic only accentuating that unpredictability. I wish I could say that we won’t ever have to worry about being pushed back online again, but nobody can say that with certainty. I found myself at every class, every club meeting and every hangout with a group of friends enveloped in a cloud of negativity. But then it hit me – I’m never going to know how long the good times will last. Pandemic or not, the world around us is inherently temporary. The only way to get the most out of my college experience while we’re here is to enjoy it while it lasts. I volunteered in that class because I value now more than ever the feeling of being just a little more involved, a little more immersed in the material.

Attending class virtually made me feel detached from the learning experience. It’s easy to zone out or get away with participating much less than you might in person, and nobody will notice. It feels nice to be able to relax, but in the end we get out what we put in, and putting forth less effort harms us as students.

Perhaps the most important piece of an in-person college experience is our ability to engage with one another socially. If we can’t see our friends, is this even a college campus? The part of losing out on my in-person freshman year that hit me the hardest was the fact that I’d have to meet most of my peers on Instagram, and my biggest fear about what Omicron could do to this semester was that I wouldn’t be able to see the people I had gotten so close with in the fall. Moving forward, I’m not going to take these important connections for granted, to do so would be to throw away one of the best parts of going to college.

I get to spend time with my friends primarily through student organizations, which were not permitted to hold gatherings until the end of January, about two weeks after in-person classes resumed. Before that time, meetings had to be conducted via Zoom. It felt like 2022 was 2020 all over again. Since campus has opened back up, I haven’t been late to a single meeting. I have decided to leave it all on the field from now on, in all of my extracurricular activities, because it is impossible to know how long we’ll have the opportunity to meet with our favorite clubs. It would be foolish to waste the time we’ve been given now by doing the bare minimum in the student organizations you are a part of by missing meetings or limiting your own participation. It is important for me to go above and beyond for the clubs I’m passionate about, and I hope that my peers are doing the same. 

We never know what the future holds, or what it has in store for us and the people around us. It’s scary to think about, but we can choose to be motivated by this feeling of uncertainty rather than discouraged by it. See the people you care about now, as often as you can. Take some friends to a concert, go to the zoo or to a Capitals game. Don’t let your busy schedule distract you from getting in touch with some of the people you might not get to see as often as you’d like in the future. You never know how long this window of opportunity will be open. Presumably, the world has more hurdles to throw at us. But rather than letting negativity overtake us, let’s enjoy being alive in D.C., while we still can.

Zachary Bestwick, a sophomore majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.