I didn’t respect this virus, initially. Its symptoms did not scare me. It was supposed to be like the flu, and as a Ghanaian-American who had contracted malaria several times and lived in Ghana during the Ebola* epidemic, I thought the United States institutions would be prepared to deal with a sudden strain in a way Ghana as a lower-middle-income country could not. Although I was aware of its effects in China, it was not until it traveled borders that I and my friends started to consider the effects of a sudden shock to the system.
I thought I would be safe at a historically women’s college. Then, Harvard, MIT, Olin, and Babson announced that they would close down in response to COVID-19. COVID-19 quickly spread through the US and with little direction from the federal government, colleges had to take on the decision to dispense liability and protect their students. Ultimately, Wellesley College decided to shut down too.
We found out March 19. For the next three days, the Class of 2020 didn’t sleep. In addition to suddenly packing up four years of our lives in the span of four days, there were so many questions we had to ask. How would we complete required credits? PE Courses? Art? Labs? Commencement? How would union workers, custodial staff and hourly workers be paid? How could international students and students from unsafe homes survive? How would we complete the semester? One thing was clear: the senior spring we had expected to end in May was ending in March.
My Class of 2020, The Resilient Red Hot Class completed all the Wellesley traditions while we waited for answers: Senior Prank, Hoop Rolling, (Alex got dunked in Lake Waban!), streaking across Sev Green in barely 400F, looking at the stars by Lake Waban. We laughed with our friends as if our lives depended on it. We posed for pictures in places that were previously mundane, now aware of just how beautiful Wellesley’s campus is. The residential life hosted Faux-commencement. We chuckled and cried amongst ourselves as we introduced our correctly pronounced names and majors because we spoke for ourselves.
Now the campus is quiet and cold with the last pangs of winter. I’ve said goodbye to the life I knew and yet I’m still here, residing in its husk because I have nowhere else to go. Oh, what a difference a week makes. I miss my friends and the potential to grow stronger, to fix potholes in relationships, to experience the mundane together. It is moments like this that make me most aware of the blessings I’ve been gifted with faculty, staff, and peers.
I find it difficult to concentrate. I can feel the incoming recession and fear for my ability to find a job in the next coming months. For now, I push away these my fears with memes and FaceTime conversations with friends and family.
I now begrudgingly respect COVID-19’s effects on any nation, no matter how prepared they may perceive themselves to be. Do not underestimate, but do not overprepare. A nation of individuals is a nation divided. There was no way that I as an individual could have prepared for this pandemic, and it sickens me to think that I had the hubris to think that any one nation could stand up to Nature. Institutions are not invincible and it is foolish to think that trusting them wholeheartedly would allow for life to go on.
I feel guilty about taking for granted the social aspect of my college experience. I think back to every moment I declined my friends’ requests to hang out that I prioritized a future that may not come. I wasn’t fully present with my friends. I am thankful for every moment I stole away to be with my friends. At the moment, I don’t remember the difficulties of organic chemistry or the thrill of a lengthy, new assigned book. I only remember the excitement of exploring Boston with friends, the infatuation of young love, the crisp taste of Sunday morning heading over to the Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center for an omelette and hours upon hours of conversation between kindred souls.
It was always going to be a bittersweet goodbye. I imagined my goodbye to Wellesley would be triumphant. Here was an institution that broke me then reformed me. Wellesley consistently tested my limits. An institution that felt like an uncomfortable ugly Christmas sweater that was simultaneously endearing and alienating. But no one is entitled to tomorrow.
Now, as I walk around its nearly empty campus, I feel numb, I feel hollow.
And even in this, I remember it could be worse. We are not the first class that has had to postpone or cancel their commencement, and technology has artificially created communities that would have been impossible to maintain even ten years ago. For that, I am forever grateful. However, COVID-19 has softened the hubris of the West. I guess there is a silver lining to everything.
*Ebola never reached Ghana, but was active in the area.