The Class of Covid-19
For the longest time, graduation seemed like an illusion to me, a mountaintop I could see but never thought I would reach. By my junior year, I’d switched my major upwards of five times, from Kinesiology to Chemical Engineering to English. I never knew what I wanted to do. (I still don’t). I spent a summer working at a beautiful campground that sat on a lake ten miles outside of Mt. Rainier National Park and highly considered dropping out to stay there forever.
Who’d want to come back to school after that?
Eventually, I came to my senses, buckled down, chose a major, and clawed my way through my senior year. I credit much of my commitment to three consecutive semesters of bowling class. There’s something about chucking a 10-pound ball down an oiled lane over and over again that lessens a 20-credit course load. As spring break approached, the top of that mountain appeared closer and closer. My capstone project became the biggest obstacle between me and a diploma. At that point, if I’d had to guess what would inevitably prevent me from walking across the stage at graduation, a worldwide pandemic wouldn’t have even been on my list. Yet here we are.
In all reality, some things don’t feel all that different. As an English major, I’m still writing papers, reading challenging texts, participating in engaging discussions, and suffering from the all-consuming disease that is senioritis. But I’m also plagued by the knowledge that the class of 2020 was cheated. We were cheated out of a chance to savor the last few moments with our favorite professors and classmates. We were cheated out of an opportunity to watch as the snow finally melted from the sidewalks on campus and Bozeman shifted from an everlasting winter to spring. We were cheated out of decorating graduation caps and holding parties to celebrate our achievements with close family and friends.
Obviously, it doesn’t bode well for quarantine survival to dwell on the negative implications of coronavirus, nor is it realistic. Personally, it’s taken some trial and error to learn how to navigate this maze. Quarantine has given me the false sense that I have more time and thus, should accomplish more. I’ve attempted several “30-Day Challenges” for fitness or self-development or whatever else, only to fall flat on my face after the first couple of days. I’ve had to tell myself that it’s okay to be patient, understanding, and most importantly, kind to myself throughout this experience.
Instead, I’m finding the joys in small victories and otherwise mundane parts of my everyday life. Some of these small victories are a little strange. I’m sure that by now, most of you have heard or taken part in the 8 pm daily howl that echoes across Bozeman and many other states and cities across the country. The first time I heard it, I was on a sunset walk with my boyfriend, at Peet’s Hill. The sun had just begun to dip behind the mountains when out of nowhere, I was suddenly surrounded by screams, howls, and even a few wonderfully obnoxious blares from a trombone. My boyfriend and I turned to each other and fell speechless in shock as the noises continued for almost five minutes.
After a quick Google search, I learned that the howls were meant to communicate support for the essential first responders and healthcare workers who have been sacrificing so much for us lately. People howl to convey solidarity, support, frustration, and whatever else they feel deserves a howl that day. I can certainly think of a few things.
Today I received an email sent out by the head of the department of English, and he shared that he had a similar experience last night when he heard the howls for the first time. But he joined in and vowed to join in for every night after:
So I joined in too, howling not just for health care workers but for grocery store employees and delivery people and all the suddenly unemployed people and everyone else who is keeping the world together or whose worlds are falling apart...Tonight at 8, and every night after this, I’ll step outside and howl, and I recommend you do also, if you’re in Bozeman. I’m going to howl tonight for all the students and teachers in the English Department too...so when you’re out tonight, listen for my howl among the mix, and know that it’s directed to all of you, students who are graciously adapting to the sudden upheaval of their academic lives, teachers who have shifted as gracefully as possible to an online format, all of us who on top of that are also sharing collective and individual anxieties about uncertainties and upheavals in the present and the future. That’s me, cheering for you. I’ll listen for your howls as well, and it will help me remember that our department is a community even still, though stuck in our houses and apartments, talking to each other through computer screens, still celebrating the power of language and human interaction and learning and making loud noises. Just like the snow that falls this weekend will melt before too long, this pandemic will not last forever, and we will find each other in person again.
I found comfort in his words and I’ve gained a little closure knowing that even though I won’t hear my name called as I walk across the stage in the Brick Breeden to shake President Cruzado’s hand, my department head is willing to do something as ridiculous as howling from his back porch to show his commitment and genuine empathy for his staff, students, and community.
This is what I will remember about my senior year of college. It won’t be the cap and gown photos or the outlandish grad parties, it will be the genuine support and camaraderie that came out of complete chaos and uncertainty. It will be the knowledge that amidst a worldwide pandemic, teachers and department heads and even the university President herself, still want us to know that they haven’t forgotten about us. We matter.