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The Coronavirus Took My Last College Term. Do I Get To Feel Sad?

This year, spring quarter didn’t come. A pandemic did.

Posted on March 21, 2020, at 9:34 a.m. ET

Courtesy of the author

The author (far right) and her friends.

On Tuesday, March 10, it was pouring rain in Santa Barbara, California.

As I looked out the window of my tiny Isla Vista apartment, I made a deal with myself: If the rain let up, I would stop watching Westworld and go to my afternoon class. When it didn’t cease pouring, I, like many UC Santa Barbara students do when it rains, decided to forgo my history of South Asian public culture lecture.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be my last chance to attend that class in person.

Later that day, UCSB followed several other universities across the United States and the world in announcing it would be moving to remote instruction until the end of April. All in-person classes would be suspended in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

My friends and I — all seniors — sat around my living room in complete shock at our chancellor’s email. We couldn’t even begin to understand the full implications at the time. We didn’t have any plans of how to proceed.

All we had were questions that nobody held the answers to. Would we all get to stay in our college town? Would we have to leave and attend next quarter’s online classes from our childhood bedrooms in our parents’ houses?

In this moment of uncertainty, there was an underlying sense of optimism, although probably tinged with denial. It was only until the end of April, right? We could come back in May after an extended spring break, and still have a chance to partake in the normal senior spring we had dreamed of for the past four years, right? We would all get those treasured final moments together — lectures, study sessions, parties, brunches — before our lives all went their separate ways, right?

In the midst of this, we still had our winter quarter final exams, projects, and theses to worry about. So, we carried on believing this would all be temporary, that there’s no way social distancing could last until mid-June. I’d still get to present my thesis, complete my internship, and have one more, albeit shorter, term as an undergraduate history major at UCSB, before I walked across the stage and accepted my diploma.


On Saturday, March 14, I was preparing for an admittedly ill-advised early St. Patrick’s Day celebration. We had no idea how serious this was about to get, for our school and for our country. And for the best, that celebration never came to fruition.

Because that day, UCSB confirmed it would be moving to online instruction through the rest of the term, until we — maybe — graduate in June.

We would all get those treasured final moments together — lectures, study sessions, parties, brunches — before our lives all went their separate ways, right?

I had crafted a vision in my head of my final spring here: one final Deltopia, a notorious party weekend in Isla Vista to start things off, an easy class schedule that was more of a formality, getting a perfect postgraduate job offer, wild nights spent downtown, weekend trips up and down the beautiful California coast, late-night crams at Davidson Library, and so many more treasured “lasts,” as we got ready to move on with the rest of our lives.

I knew my last term wouldn’t be movie-perfect. But I thought, surely, it would still exist.

It felt like our last quarter of college, our last time to all be together, to live in the same town, to be seniors in the spring, to simply be students, was being stolen from us. We had no control over what was happening.

As the situation worsened, I was lucky enough to leave town when my internship supervisor told me I could work from home. Now, I wait it out in my hometown of Clovis, California, four hours from my school, trying desperately to make sense of what is happening. In this constantly evolving situation, it has been excruciating to see my college career coming to an end so suddenly — there’s barely any time to focus on classes being suspended, before we start wondering if our commencement will be canceled.

In this time I’ve toiled over these complicated feelings, this overwhelming sense of loss, with all of my friends, classmates, and professors. But soon, I could feel myself growing tired of what I kept repeating, over and over, in every conversation.

“I’m so grateful for my health, but…”

“I know we’re the lucky ones in this situation, but…”

“Of course, I understand that other people out there have it worse, but…”

Was I being ungrateful? Were my feelings selfish? Why was I so wrapped up in the thought of giving up some superficial events — weekly Bachelor viewings and backyard birthday parties, the first week of classes and the last goodbyes to my favorite professors, sunsets shared with my roommate and commencement celebrations soon to be shared with my family—when there are people in this world shouldering hardships brought on by the coronavirus that are way worse?

There are people in the service, entertainment and hospitality industries who have lost their jobs. There are janitors and grocery store workers who have to choose between a paycheck and their health. There are at-risk grandparents who have to take care of children who may unknowingly spread the virus.

I know friends who are set to be getting married this summer, who now have to postpone their pre-wedding activities to honor social distancing. I know a friend who is immunocompromised, afraid to leave their house. I know another friend who lost her university housing and had to move home immediately. My father works at Costco, which is cleaned out by panicked shoppers daily, all of whom he’s exposed to. And I worry about my grandparents, who could have much more taken from them by the coronavirus than a college graduation ceremony.

And yet here I sit, moping around with my friends. But it’s not simply because we might not get to do a bottomless-mimosas brunch one last time.

Suddenly the buffer between my college life and the “real world” is gone. And the real world looks increasingly worse by the day as we face a global, unending crisis.

Was I being ungrateful? Were my feelings selfish?

Students like me are flocking to Facebook groups to make jokes and post memes throughout all of this — there is undoubtedly a heightened sense of community as we watch our senior spring slip away. The UCSB class of 2020 has weathered a lot of misfortune throughout the past four years; President Trump was elected our freshman year, we had to evacuate sophomore year (and reschedule our entire school year) due to the 2017 Thomas fire. Just last summer, a mountain lion terrorized our campus. So truly, part of me thinks it would not really be our senior year if it wasn’t cut short by a literal pandemic.

So I lean on my friends as I try to process my fear, that my parents, who didn’t graduate from college, won’t get to see me accept my diploma in June; that I’m entering the job market in what is likely to be a major economic recession; the fear of simply not knowing I did several things for the last time when I did them.

Courtesy of the author

The author (middle) and friends.

Spring quarter at UC Santa Barbara is a time when, after a rainy winter, the sun comes out. The campus comes alive. Students lie on the green lawns, cut class for beach days, and soak up as much time in the sun and with each other as we can before summer rolls around and we part.

But this year, spring quarter didn’t come. A pandemic did.

As I drove through campus one final time before leaving for my parents’ home indefinitely, I saw first-year students saying tearful goodbyes to their roommates. Their parents packed up their cars to bring their kids home from the dormitories, only one full day after our university had decided to transition to remote instruction.

And I thought, These kids have three full years ahead of them — what are they upset about? But just like me, they’re impacted by this in their own profound way.

These are not normal times. When I log off of Twitter at night and talk to my roommate, who’s in her own hometown, I’m reminded that it’s okay to feel robbed of an important time in our life. It’s okay to feel anxious about what we’ll do after we graduate. It’s okay to feel completely unsure of what a senior spring will look like for us. It’s okay to feel all of these things, because we understand that everyone else is impacted by this crisis just as much, and in many cases undoubtedly more, than we are.

There’s no right way to get through the emotional impacts of a shut-down society. Punishing ourselves for how we handle these emotions will only make it harder.

I’ll never get to attend that last South Asian public culture lecture that I skipped on a rainy day before everything changed. And it’s quite possible I won’t get to walk to the processional with my friends in June as our families cheer us on.

So yes, I have my health. But I still have my grief, my anger, and my sadness. And that’s okay. ●


Madeline Thompson is a history and writing student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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