Reminiscing on the pandemic

| Class of 2023

Over the summer, I attended a conference as part of my nine-week internship. While I learned a lot and got to meet great people, the four-hour flight for just a day and a half trip was tiring. Later in the summer, I traveled cross-country to Las Vegas for a two-day competition. Around all that, I also went on a family vacation. So why do I mention all this?

During the initial COVID shutdown and for the ensuing year, there was the never-before opportunity to physically slow down because we didn’t have to go anywhere.

This will sound strange, but bear with me: those months were some of the most enjoyable of my college experience. Every weekend for the rest of that semester, my parents and I would hike at a state park and pack a picnic lunch. I got to see places within an hour or two from my home that I would have never seen otherwise. There was no agenda and no need to rush back home for anything. I stayed in touch with friends I had made that year, having late-night Zoom calls on weekends, getting to meet their pets, and learning about their hobbies that they didn’t have time to pursue at school. In normal circumstances, I think it isn’t so common to keep those Bear Beginnings friends until graduation. 

Now, three and a half years later, it all still seems a little surreal, and I’m not absolutely sure I’m ready to forget that time. If not for COVID, I probably wouldn’t have met some of the people who ended up being my closest friends in undergrad. We ate outside in the November chill, built a snowman behind BD, and went on morning walks in Forest Park. It was all easy to do because there wasn’t anything else going on. Fast forward two or three years: we’re all busier, evidenced by the fact that I only played poker in my dorm once last year. We did other things, such as going out to dinner, to a Blues game, or to SPB events. But this all felt more rushed, like we always had to run back home because the inevitable flow of assignments and extracurriculars would overwhelm us if we didn’t.

I am probably the rare exception who enjoys spending time with my parents as much as I enjoy spending time with my friends. Similar to most WashU students who don’t live near St. Louis, I only go home during breaks, and only some breaks at that. So except for COVID, I have only been home for about two months in total during the past four years. For some reason, that bothers me. The past two years just felt like I’ve been constantly packing, moving, and repacking, racing to get to an activity or the next meeting. 

The slow COVID days aren’t coming back (hopefully, at least, for humanity’s sake). But I hope all of us at WashU can look back and appreciate that time as much as we can, despite the hardship it created. So although it was emotionally devastating, it was also a special time that we can’t reclaim. For instance, I wish I had more time for pleasure reading on a regular basis. During the COVID year, I read eight books (my average is two or three). 

I didn’t feel like I lost anything socially, as it presented an opportunity to reconnect with high school and neighborhood friends. And once everyone returned to campus in the fall of 2021, it made my WashU friendships even more meaningful. It’s hard to imagine what life would have been like if we had all been on campus the whole time, but I suspect that the years of college would have been less clearly distinguished.

My advice is to take some time to slow down occasionally by taking a day or two off from homework or meetings throughout the semester. I think you’ll remember it.

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