Featured Illustration: ‘Lights On’ by Ranganath Krishnamani
With the fall blues now fully upon us, students have returned to the back-to-school groove. Yes, unlike previous years, I feel oddly stuck to the preceding one. A year, a milestone even, that disappeared without realization.
Leaving high school without graduation, without yearbook signings, and without senior trips removed much of the allure associated with this time. But more than canceled events, the Class of 2021 lost our connection during a period where connectivity seems effortless. The kids I sat with, knee-to-knee, during reading time in kindergarten, the classmates I played manhunt with in grade 3, the acquaintances that lasted for more than half my life, disappeared without a wave, without a hug, without a goodbye.
Now, weeks into university, I realize how swiftly we all let go of one another. I wonder how my running buddy is liking her English degree or whether my lab partner ended up moving away from home. Despite knowing how easy it is to send a text, I hold back; the pandemic has changed us all so much, do I even remember the same person?
Starting post-secondary brings along many fears — making new friends, fitting in, doing well in classes, getting around campus in one piece. With my first semester being online, those fears have been replaced by effortless comfort. My commute is to my desk and what is the need to make friends when all that my education entails is me, my laptop, and my professor’s class website?
I thought freshman year was about getting out of your comfort zone, doing the things you were always too scared to do, making unexpected friendships between lectures and commutes. The ease of online university has made comfort a barrier rather than a luxury. I have not made a single friend since starting university but rather, I cling to infrequent conversations with my high school friends. Without closure and without the grand entry into adulthood, I am unable to toss away this inertia.
The unease of graduating high school parallels the ease of entering university during the pandemic.
My later high school years became defined by a gnawing loneliness that could only be thawed with seeing the very people I knew I couldn’t. I relied on no person to make it through the pandemic, and hyper independence can be just as detrimental as dependency. Why make new friends now and why take risks, when everything can be turned under your feet like it did in March 2020?
University may very well continue in person next semester and I dread it. Instead of engaging in conversations with classmates attentively, I will probably wonder whether my glasses are clean enough or if my eyes look tired or any other self-conscious detail no one really notices but yourself. Instead of staying after classes to study in the library or meet classmates in a cafe, I will shuttle back home to the safe bubble I have built these two years.
Turning 18, graduating high school, and starting university during the pandemic has made me more self-reliant yet, more closed off, more afraid, and more anxious. Check up on the teens in your life because we need it.