I’m a College Senior. Here’s What My Classmates and I Have Lost.

A personal essay about missing out on graduation and other milestones.

grad caps

Today, our Wake-Up Call newsletter is featuring a personal essay by Mary Kate O’Leary, a 22-year-old Florida native wrapping up her senior year at University of Notre Dame. She will graduate with degrees in Spanish and the Program of Liberal Studies. Read on.

This May was supposed to be full of senior week parties, photos with white dresses and tulips, and a moment in a cap and gown — where I’d look around a campus that used to be so foreign, and big, and say, “Look. I did it.” When the university president announced in the middle of spring break that classes were suspended, then later cancelled them, and postponed graduation: I was forced to reckon with the fact that May will not include the things it was ‘supposed’ to. I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that this chapter of my life, one of living surrounded by my closest friends, is over.

Right before stay-at-home orders were announced, my friends and I had one final day on campus together. When I look back at this year, ‘normal’ times included, it will undoubtedly be one I always remember. It was a day both lighthearted and profound. I fluctuated between dozens of emotions, all of them urgent, all of them big.

One moment we were properly elated at hazy visions of our futures; the next I was crying on the porch as I had to say goodbye to yet another one of my friends as they went back to their hometown. This time, for good. I looked around the yard at one point (not for the first time this year) and thought how this — this eclectic assortment of friends sitting in a yard on an admittedly gross March afternoon — was what I always imagined college would be. This, however — uncertain goodbyes, forced attempts at closure, and seminar classes from my bedroom — is not how I ever imagined it would end.

I won’t hide the fact that this has been hard. If you had told me that this would be the ending of the most formative years of my life, I would’ve laughed it away. Just the week before spring break, my boss at my on-campus job asked what I still wanted to accomplish in my senior year. I laugh at the irony when I remember my answer: “I mean nothing specific. I just want to spend time with people.” At the moment, it seemed like a pretty low bar.

I’m heartbroken that all the ‘lasts’ I had built up in my mind — last discussion in my favorite classroom, last party at the go-to house of senior year, last time running into my brother on campus — all passed without any ceremony or recognition. I might never see some of these people again: all the acquaintances, classmates, and work friends who colored in the edges of my last four years. Whenever this social distancing ends, we will still be distanced in some new configuration across a handful of cities.

So while senior spring doesn’t look like it was ‘supposed to’, it is still happening. It is still sacred and important. The importance just comes in different ways. Some days feel like the same thing over and over — zooming into a class I’m barely prepared for, then binging hours worth of Gilmore Girls with my roommates.

There have been silver linings, even if I’ve had to look harder for them. I’ve spent rich, though monotonous, quarantine time with my closest friends — the women who have brought so much color and love to my life. And it’s a blessing. Some days, the Midwest weather cuts us a break and we blow off our responsibilities and drink seltzer all day in the sunshine — something we would have done this semester regardless.

We are determined to make the best of it. I believe times and experiences like this shape you as a person. I want to be someone who approaches fear with flexibility. This chapter is forcing me to do just that.

The only thing I would wish for is more: More afternoons in my favorite on-campus cafe and early classes where I always walk in late. More quick hellos in obscure hallways that turn into long conversations. More asking, “Are you going out tonight?” and bolting to an Uber in the black boots I’ve been meaning to clean. More darties (day parties) and traditions that call to mind similar weekends across the years, when I was so much younger, with worries that now seem so small. More commiserating on the second floor of the library over a paper my friends and I had put off. More, more, more.

This originally appeared on Medium.com