January 31, 2022

MEIDENBAUER | The Beginning of the End: COVID and College

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For all of us in the Class of 2022, this period marks the beginning of our “lasts.” Our last first day of classes. Our last time we’ll move back into Collegetown apartments. Our last semester ever. Even as I’m typing this out, it doesn’t feel real, especially thanks to Zoom University.

Like so many other seniors, I keep dreading the inevitable questions about post-grad plans.  A part of me feels like it’s somehow wrong to plan for a time after Cornell — the part of me that doesn’t quite know how to picture life any other way.  After all, like many of us, I’ve spent 16 of my 21 years in the educational system; being a student is a huge part of my life.

That said, the other part of me can’t wait to leave and take on the elusive “real world” that I get glimpses of each summer.  This time, though, there’s no expiration date; there’s no looming red circle on the calendar for back-to-school.  The real world feels limitless.  The other part of me can’t wait to stop the world burning or go out in flames trying. 

Even with the pandemic looming over half of my college experience, I’m so incredibly grateful for all of the struggles I’ve faced.  It’s cliché, but Cornell really did teach me how strong I am, and I’m proud of that.  It’s a trait that will serve all of me well no matter what else life throws my way.  

Yet, I’m sad that COVID has stolen such a solid chunk of our college experience.  After two years, any semblance of normalcy feels virtually impossible (pun intended).  The class of 2022 straddles two college eras; we’re old enough to remember what a year of college pre-pandemic felt like, but now we’re seniors.  We’re the last of the student body that remembers, and even our memories are fuzzy.  

We had three normal semesters, and quite honestly, that now feels like a luxury.  In a way, it makes all of it worse because we know what we lost.  To be honest, as much as I’ve tried to stay positive, my college experience was irrevocably changed, and I’m not sure it was for the better.

There’s no other way to put it: Zoom University sucks.  I have no doubt that the pandemic has posed unique challenges for everyone, but being in college during this time is quite the rollercoaster.  The politics, the arguing, the stress; it comes at all levels, from friends and family to administrators and politicians.  And it’s not going away anytime soon, as Cornell’s surge in cases at the end of last semester reminded us.  

 I fully empathize with the desire to return to normal: to stop testing, stop wearing masks and go back out into the world unafraid.  I understand it, because I feel that urge too, especially as a second semester senior.  But the thing is, as much as this is terrible at times, it’s not just about us.  It’s about the communities we interact with.  It’s about our families and friends, too.   

It’s about my severely immunocompromised dad that spent all of last week in the hospital with the virus, despite being fully vaccinated and boosted.  Throughout the pandemic, my entire family has taken every precaution possible to prevent this, including sacrificing holidays together.  Even if I was 100 percent sure I didn’t have the virus, my dad still would wear a mask in the house around me both for his own safety and his peace of mind.   It was heartbreaking.

Our efforts to keep my dad COVID-free paid off until January 2022.  That said, we have no idea how he got the virus; our family had been home together for well over a month at that point.  In a way, it’s relieving to know that my family now has a natural immunity built up, but I can’t help but fear what will happen if restrictions are loosened, if more variants arise.  What will that mean for me and my family?  As much as I want to go back to normal, I’m afraid of what the consequences might be.  

And I know I’m not alone.  As frustrating as all of these continual measures are right now, I will gladly keep doing all of it because it helps all the families out there like mine.

To anyone else in the Class of 2022, I’m sorry that this is what we’ve had to deal with.  I can only speak to my own experience; if yours is anything like mine, I’m sure you’re dealing with a lot of conflicting, confusing feelings about graduating during the pandemic right now too.  Hang in there.  I’m rooting for all of us.

Lorelei Meidenbauer ’22 (she/her/hers) is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Hot-takes and Handshakes runs every other Tuesday this semester.