My final semester at Bates has officially begun, and the more I remind myself of that, the more surreal it feels. Just as life at Bates was starting to feel settled and close to normal again, the omicron variant came into our lives, bringing with it some major deja vu. Though some of the more severe COVID-19 restrictions, such as the suspension of universal dorm access and moving social programming online, were lifted last Friday, a sense of uncertainty remains about what the rest of the semester may bring, and Bates’ Class of 2022 no longer has the same cushion of time for things to get better before graduation.
I respect the fact that Bates had to implement changes in order to prevent huge outbreaks of COVID-19 cases on campus, so I’m not writing this article to complain. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that Bates already adjusted some of the initial restrictions and was able to give us a date to plan for the return of Commons. Spending time at home in New York City over winter break, I quickly realized that the omicron variant and the spiking COVID-19 rates were unlike anything we’d seen in quite a long time. The insane lines at testing sites, the amount of my family members and friends who were testing positive and the canceled holiday gatherings were all pretty good indications that winter at Bates would once again be challenging, so I prepared myself for that.
The sudden upheaval of the college experience has become so normalized that it doesn’t phase me much anymore, and sometimes I forget that it wasn’t always like this. If you had asked me in March 2020 or anytime during the initial quarantine, I probably would’ve said that my class, the Class of 2022, lucked out in terms of the timing of the pandemic. At that point, we were all crushed for the Class of 2020 and heartbroken that they would not get to experience iconic moments like thesis bindings, senior week and of course, graduation in their intended forms. My class, on the other hand, had a full non-COVID-19 year under our belts, and we would get two more years at Bates after this mess. Selfishly, I remember thinking that at least my class would be okay.
However, as the 2020-2021 school year approached, my mindset started to shift. The Class of 2021 were the ones with the real bad luck. Their whole senior year would be impacted by COVID-19 and strict restrictions. Thankfully, Bates prioritized the in-person experience, and individuals who wanted to be on campus could be. Still, the Class of 2021 never got to finish out their college experience without the threat of COVID-19 and Bates’ policies looming ominously over their heads, and by the time vaccines were readily accessible, the school year was basically over. Sure, the majority of my class didn’t get to have the study abroad experiences we had planned for our junior year, but we could take comfort in the assumption that our senior year would be normal, and for that, I was grateful.
Now, here I am — a senior, fully vaccinated and boosted — still living with COVID-19 restrictions and still feeling uncertain about how the rest of the semester at Bates might go. It’s just crazy to think about. I try not to get too caught up in how much time has gone by or how much the pandemic has changed all our lives because it’s overwhelming and it’s depressing. However, given that graduation is right around the corner, I can’t help but mourn the college experience that we never really got to have, at least not to its fullest extent.
Part of me is fully aware that being able to attend Bates primarily in person during a pandemic has been a privilege and it’s not worth mourning the college experience. Everyone who is a student right now has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, some in much more challenging and significant ways than me. I also know I’m ready to forge my next chapter after Bates and I don’t feel compelled to prolong my time in college — the stress and volatility of the past two years have definitely accelerated the process of letting go and moving on.
Yet, another small part of me remains in shock at the same time. This was not the college experience that I would’ve ever expected. Who would’ve thought that COVID-19 would come to define most of our time at Bates? It truly is surreal.