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Senior Year, Interrupted

When I heard the news that COVID-19 had been upgraded to pandemic status only three weeks ago, I was sitting around The Retriever’s conference table with my colleagues. We knew it was going to be a stressful meeting — by then we were already scrambling to establish a plan of coverage for when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County began its two-week break from in-person classes. 

Even as we all spoke over each other and scribbled furiously on the whiteboard, I felt an odd clarity begin to settle in as I reassured myself that I, like the rest of The Retriever staff, was doing everything within my power to encourage safety.  

But when our Opinions Editor suddenly interrupted the conversation, announcing in a serious tone that what was once an epidemic was now a global pandemic, a threat to the lives of those we love and essentially impossible to stop, we all froze. A heavy silence fell over the room. It was brief, lasting only a few moments, but in that time my worldview shifted. I’ve been living in fear and mourning ever since.

This is the second semester of my senior year and everything was beginning to fall into place. I had completed all of my degree requirements, and the few courses I was taking were purely for fun. In early March, I was accepted into an exciting graduate program, which alleviated the pressure of not knowing what comes after graduation. 

My best friend had returned from her study abroad trip and moved into a cozy West Hill apartment with me. The two of us worked together, cooked and cleaned together, studied and made music together. Sometimes I would wake earlier than I needed to, steeping green tea in my favorite mug as I watched the sunrise. I felt endless gratitude and wanted nothing more than to capture the sensation, remember it forever.

At this point, I’ve been in extreme isolation for over two weeks and all I want is for my senior year to be over. I sanitize and disinfect and follow every protocol, but I can’t escape my constant worry for the elderly, the weak, the homeless and essential workers who remain at risk. This includes my parents, who both work at a hospital downtown. Because of their heightened exposure, I’m not able to safely live at home with them. Other UMBC students, for various reasons, are in similar situations, torn from their families for a frighteningly uncertain span of time. Though I am lucky to have a safe place to stay with people who care about me, I can only imagine that many do not.

The combination of these worries and the slew of bad news is constantly spilling over into in-person conversations. Sometimes the bad seems inescapable. 

But even in this time of crisis, we have to allow ourselves to step back for a moment and view the world through selfish eyes. I worry about the world, yes, and my parents, but honestly? I miss my tiny West Hill kitchen, and the act of reading a book by the library pond, where friends and classmates would stop and chat as they made their way around campus. I miss popping into professors’ office hours to chat. 

Unlike every other graduating class in UMBC history, the class of 2020 won’t have a commencement. In the past, when college felt too stressful (which it so often did) I sometimes imagined myself looking up at the ceiling of the Event Center and watching confetti spiral down like a snowstorm, enveloping me. I hoped that when it happened for real, time might slow or even stop, just briefly, as my four years of hard work culminated in one single symbolic moment of joy.

My sister graduated from UMBC in 2013. My father graduated in the 80s, along with a handful of my aunts and uncles. My grandfather, a political science professor, began teaching at UMBC in 1972, and stayed until his death in 2008. When my mother dropped me off at my freshman dorm for the first time, she pointed out his old office and reminisced about babysitting for UMBC professors when she was a teenager. She was raised at UMBC, and I was too, watching soccer games and attending Homecoming festivities. When the time came for me to apply to college, there was no discussion. I was a UMBC girl.

Every now and then I reach my limit of news intake and excessive worry, and I remember, suddenly, the world I left behind so abruptly. At UMBC, I grew up twice, first as a child and then as a teenager becoming an adult, learning to make good decisions and, sometimes, justify the bad decisions. 

I have 21 years’ worth of UMBC memories, but I’m selfish — I want just two more months to complete the narrative, tie up loose ends, say my many thank-you’s, hug my friends and watch one last sunset from the top of Walker Garage, where the sky burns orange in the Baltimore smog. This is the best view on campus, and I hope I see it again soon.