Commentary: Starting my senior year during a pandemic

Commentary: Starting my senior year during a pandemic

Heading into her final year, Meredith Clark contemplates the school year ahead during the Age of Corona.
Published: August 24, 2020
Students walk to class on the SU campus on the first day of school for the 2020-2021 school year.
SU students walk the promenade between classes Monday on the first day of school for the 2020-2021 school year.

There’s something bittersweet about the last first day of school. The last first walk to class. The last first gathering on the quad. The last first high-five with Otto the Orange. Every precious tradition that defines the beginning of the Syracuse University school year, like Juice Jam or Orange Blast, comes around, and in a flash that tradition becomes a memory. But today, the last first day of school just felt bitter.

No matter how excited I was to start my senior year at SU, walking across the quad today and seeing the white circles painted on the grass, I was instantly reminded of the new era we’re living in: one where social distancing is a must and wearing a mask is without question.

As I prepared for my first day of senior year, with remote learning, I couldn’t help but think back on my first day of college. I was just a timid freshman, desperate to make new friends. When that video — you know the one — of the Class of 2024 stampeding toward the quad surfaced, at first I was horrified. I thought, “How did they get there? Why did no one stop them? Where are their masks? This does not look like social distancing!” Just like Pavlov’s dogs, I have been conditioned by the Age of Corona to feel physically sick at the sight of any group gathering more than 10 people, and I know I won’t be un-conditioned any time soon. But I could also sympathize with them. I remember freshman year like it was yesterday, so I could imagine what they were feeling — excited, nervous, eager to meet new people, and very susceptible to herd mentality. I mean, we’ve all been in the freshman year GroupMe’s. We know what it’s like.

Meredith Clark outside the Hall of Languages on Aug. 24, 2020

As I signed on to my first class of the day from the comfort of my bedroom, the professor began our Zoom with a harsh truth for us all. Yet, it was one that I really needed to hear. She said, “Taking a college campus environment and moving it entirely online is totally abnormal and completely unconventional.” Of course, this semester won’t have all the perks that we’re all used to, and there’s no way to around that. But I think I speak for many students, and especially my fellow seniors when I say, I sincerely wish this year could be different.

But the stakes now are so much bigger than us. The health of an entire student body, faculty, and staff are on the line. The well-being of the greater Syracuse community, with fewer resources than our campus community is so privileged to have, is at risk. Not to mention the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests against police violence, the murders of Black people and a life-changing presidential election looming over our heads. When you put it like that, really everything else feels so small.

It’s unclear how my senior year will look. Actually, I think it’s unclear to how everyone’s year will look. Are we fated to end up like the other schools that shut down after just two weeks, or will we be one of the lucky ones to make it to the end of the semester? The future is uncertain. The only thing that is certain? Wear a mask.