What we were promised: reflections of a graduating senior

| Staff Writer
Graduating senior Dakotah Jennifer, dressed in a bright green hoodie, looks off-camera with a slight smile. In the backdrop, pink flowers bloom on the trees.

Graduating senior Dakotah Jennifer looks off-camera with a slight smile. (Photo by Holden Hindes / Student Life)

I am so excited to graduate. And it’s not because of the usual suspects — it’s not because rappers at WashU’s WILD make me nervous, or because I watch students treat staff like invisible maids. It’s not even because I had a stark realization standing in Graham Chapel two years ago that I was never meant to attend this school, as Black undergraduates weren’t even allowed at WashU until 1952 — 50 years after the school was built. I’m itching to be done because, as a WashU graduate and friend said to me over dinner earlier this year, “You miss what you were promised; you’re done with what you got.”

Let me explain. For a lot of us — including everyone attending WashU now — and the last few classes of graduates, COVID-19 has irreparably changed our college experience. For people in the class of 2020 through the class of 2023, we were promised and we expected a certain college experience. Instead, we got online classes and virtually no work/life balance. Don’t get me wrong — I have so much sympathy for current freshmen and sophomores, for the kids struggling through hybrid high school, for the professors who face silent gray screens every Monday and Wednesday. But I think juniors and seniors have a more tragic story — we were promised something that was ultimately pulled right out from under us. 

The college experience is different for everyone, but it promises to be fulfilling, tumultuous: full of late nights and lazy mornings, missed classes and nights roaming around with friends, big parties and full tables at the cafe. All of these things were realities for us, and without warning, they were locked away. I was thriving, experiencing life as an independent person, becoming who I’d always wanted to be, and then the whole world fell into chaos — and though I knew it was selfish, I missed my college dorm, my Alpha Delt parties and Hillman Hall visits. As seniors now, we are two years behind — we missed out, spent our time stuck in apartments, dorms, bedrooms. All of our energy was expended trying not to get cabin fever, doing our homework, attending class (staring at a screen for at least 12 hours a week) and dealing with the mental toll of being trapped inside our homes with our families and ourselves. We didn’t get the four years of the college experience that we were on our way to achieving. Now, everything feels wasted to me, like I lost something irreplaceable. I miss something that I can never get back.

Honestly, I think we’ll all be mourning our promised college experience for a while. For people who were in high school or middle school when COVID-19 started, their expectations of the college experience were irrevocably altered before they’d entered the experience — their hopes, though perhaps dampened, were not snatched away, as they didn’t get a taste before it all went down the drain. For those of us who were enrolled and attending when the pandemic started, college was there — we were experiencing it, laughing in Bear’s Den and filling Whispers’ booths to the brim, attending WILD and squeezing through masses of our peers. And then, suddenly, spring break was a week longer, and all of our things were stuck in our dorms indefinitely. 

I am so excited to graduate, to move on with my life, to get an apartment somewhere with someone I love and start searching on LinkedIn, but I’m also devastated. I feel as if I didn’t get enough: college went too fast, but not in a fond way. I don’t want to make this experience longer — I don’t want another semester or another year — but I want one that is whole. I want what I was promised, what I nearly had. This bittersweet melancholy plagues me and my senioritis. I am not sure what to do about it — if I should forget what I wanted, what I nearly had, and accept that it happened, or rage against the unfairness of it, for all of us. Undoubtedly, I feel the worst for the class of 2023 and 2024, who had seen all the glory of college but felt it slip like sand through their fingertips. But as I near the end of my time at WashU, I find myself wishing for something nonexistent. I want a time machine, an alternate universe, a magical cure, so that I can salvage some of the college life I’d seen as a first-semester sophomore, moving into Shepley, ready for what was to come.

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