Dear College Students,
First and foremost, I want to say that you all are strong and brave in navigating the terrain of these unprecedented times. College is stressful all by itself, let alone somehow meeting assignment deadlines amid a global pandemic. I just graduated in the class of 2020 and joined many of you in that unfortunately prolonged and quarantined “spring break.” My younger sister Kori is going into her sophomore year of college, so I write this with her in mind. I apologize in advance if this comes across as unsolicited sisterly advice.
We have to be honest with ourselves. The coronavirus is scary and the situation in the United States is far from stable. At the time of writing this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recorded 5,682, 491 cases and 176, 223 deaths in the US alone. The numbers seem to just keep climbing and it isn’t happening in a vacuum. How on earth can you all be expected to focus on grades, extracurriculars, or career goals at a time like this? I don’t want to minimize what’s being asked of you. In essence, you have to do the hard work of getting a degree or securing an internship while being shortchanged of the social elements that make those things fun or even slightly bearable. And much more importantly, you are trying to push through to lay foundations for your future while people are dying. There’s no real way to know how profoundly COVID has impacted us until after it’s over. Whether it be that you're back on campus and you're navigating how to respect the provided social distancing guidelines, or everything is online and you're still trying to figure out how you plug in with the broader community through solely virtual platforms, or you decided to take a gap year, this is a time of major transition without a clear road map. But you all can get through this. There is hope on the other side of this, and if it means anything, I have full faith that you all will succeed. The parameters for that success will just be different. In order to make it through this time though, to regain the stereotypical college experience you may have dreamed of in high school, there are two things to bear in mind: you need to be patient with yourselves and willing to make sacrifices.
A huge part of being patient with yourselves is prioritizing your mental health above all else. Though struggles with mental health have often been at the heart of college stress culture, studies have indicated that COVID has intensified these concerns. Most notably, college-aged focus group participants report being more easily distracted and having more depressive thought patterns. Give yourselves the emotional, psychological, and even spiritual space you need. Be willing to respectfully ask for your professors, supervisors, mentors, etc. to be patient with you as well if need be. Ultimately, your well-being is more important than your GPA. Let me type that again, but louder: YOUR WELL-BEING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR GPA! This has always been true, but it’s important to remember now more than ever.
Even though you should prioritize your well-being, you should not choose to cope in ways that undermine communal progress towards a solution to COVID. In other words, DO NOT host large gatherings or disobey any of the recommended social distancing guidelines. Some of the usual ways that college students blow off steam, i.e. partying, simply cannot happen for the good of public health. It’s been really disheartening to see how some schools that have reopened have already had to shut down irreverent large group gatherings. It’s sad to know that some people can be so selfish and shortsighted. This cannot happen on a grand scale. College students being young and reckless, at least in the stereotypical way, can harm the entire surrounding community. You all as college students, and young adults in general, myself included, cannot afford to be that self-centered. And even though we are less likely to experience serious symptoms, our rate of infection is on the rise, making us more likely to spread the coronavirus to more vulnerable populations. And since college is often a formative period of becoming the mature adults we aspire to be, use this moment to become the kind of people who care about their neighbors.
Though things are admittedly quite bleak, there will be an end to COVID. Hopefully, we’ll emerge on the other side of this more united and compassionate. And you’ll all have a college experience that will be forever ensconced in history. I know we will be a generation marked by
resilience, change, and communal mobilization towards progress as long as we are willing to take care of ourselves as we make needed sacrifices for others. Stay safe and healthy, everyone.
PS Here’s some resources on how to still have some socially distant fun: