Opinion | Please let me mourn my final days of college

By Sarah Connor, Contributing Editor

At this point, I’m sure we’ve all seen the videos of college students spending spring break partying on the beaches of Florida despite the global coronavirus pandemic. One student said, “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.” and that soundbite has now gone viral.

I am a senior at Pitt, and I did not go on a spring break trip. Most of my friends did not go on spring break either. In fact, our plan for our final spring break was just to save our money and hang out together in Pittsburgh. When cases of coronavirus started popping up in Pennsylvania and the University announced a transition to online classes, we decided against going out to bars and even canceled a party we had planned for a close friend’s 21st birthday.

In the time I’ve spent social distancing, I’ve been seeing posts on social media of people generalizing all college students to be like the students from the viral video, saying things along the lines of “college kids only care about partying and themselves.”

Others say that college students shouldn’t be sad about having to leave campus early — there are people dying, people losing their jobs and other larger problems in the world at the moment.

“College students complaining about campuses shutting down and having to take online classes are soooo annoying STOP BEING SELFISH KAREN ITS NOT ABOUT U NOW TAKE YOUR CLASS ONLINE GET YOUR CREDITS AND STFU,” one Twitter user wrote.

No, this pandemic is not about me. But I would like to defend my fellow college students and say that if we were not signed up for online classes to begin with, this transition is stressful and a lot of professors are just as confused as we are. Cut the students a break. At Pitt, our tuition is about $17,000 per year, so forgive us if we’re a little upset about not getting to have the classes we paid for in-person.

Our campus closure brought new levels of confusion and sadness. For me, it meant my time at Pitt got cut short. I don’t get to come back in the fall and try again. I was looking forward to these last few weeks of school with my friends and professors who have mentored me over the years, but just like that, it’s all over.

But it’s not missing my social life that hurts the most — when my graduation got postponed, my heart sank. I remember the day my brother graduated from Pitt in 2018, my dad congratulated him and said, “Graduating high school is more of a rite of passage, everyone gets to do that. But not everyone graduates from a school like Pitt. This is an accomplishment.”

Whether Pitt decides to hold a commencement ceremony or not, I will still graduate of course — I will have a bachelor’s degree mailed to me. But COVID-19 just keeps spreading through Allegheny County and the entire state of Pennsylvania with no sign of slowing down. Concerts and music festivals throughout the summer have already been canceled or postponed, and I’m moving in June. It seems unlikely that I will get the graduation I’ve dreamed of.

Like my dad said, graduating from Pitt will without a doubt be the biggest accomplishment of my life. There were times, especially in my earlier years of college, when I was struggling with both my mental and physical health, that I wasn’t sure if I could do it. In my first semester, I was so overwhelmed and unsure of what I wanted out of college, I didn’t think I could stay at Pitt. But I did. And I’m set to finish with a high GPA, three internships under my belt, more than 40 bylines in The Pitt News that I’m incredibly proud of and some of the strongest friendships I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing.

I’ve never been a confident person, and for the first time in my life, I proved myself wrong. Even into my junior year of college, I just didn’t think I could be successful. But here I am, weeks away from graduating, less than three months away from moving to Syracuse, New York, for a master’s program, and I may not get to walk across that stage at the Pete.

But life will go on, and college graduation is just one day in our lives. Not having a graduation will not erase all the work I did and the progress I made as a person, but damn, I just wanted one day to be recognized for that progress.

I know that nothing can be done, and I support the University’s decision to postpone graduation. Five thousand students with their parents and grandparents in one room is a surefire way to spread the virus to many people, especially at-risk individuals. I fully accept that this dream of mine can’t come true, so just let me be sad about it for a little while.

It isn’t just the prospect of a graduation cancellation that has me upset. I had only just started to process and accept the fact that I’ll be leaving my friends and a community that has provided me with an incredible amount of support over the years. My friends at Pitt encouraged me to get help when I needed it, to get out of a relationship that was putting my mental health in a bad place, to get out of my apartment on days when I didn’t even want to see the sunlight.

If I’d have known that things were going to change this quickly, that I will not get to see some of them again before I leave for Syracuse, I would have thanked them endlessly and given them the biggest hugs. When you graduate high school, you tell your friends, “I’ll see you over winter and summer breaks.” But when you graduate college, everyone goes their separate ways, to a new life — grad school, full-time work or moving back home. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to everyone, and I’m still not.

I thought I would at least have a few more weeks to get the sad goodbyes out and, of course, to thank my professors who helped me over the years.

As I’m writing this, a song titled “Cathedral” by a group called Hovvdy started playing on a Spotify playlist a friend sent me. The title caught my eye for obvious reasons — I’m at my parents’ house missing Pitt, and the prettiest thing at Pitt is the Cathedral of Learning.

The song is a simple 3-minute-long emo ballad — and the lyrics feel eerily similar to the words I’m writing. I’m sitting on my bed in my childhood room, waiting for an online class to begin, and I erupt into tears.

“Trust I’ll calm down, always do somehow / Open my door, brighter than before outside,” the male vocalist sings. “We’ll maybe never come back here, we could stay with our friends / We’ll maybe never come back here, maybe we better hover.”

I wish I could hover on my last week at Pitt, before I knew I wouldn’t be coming back and wouldn’t be having a graduation ceremony. I know I’m not alone in this feeling. Yes, we’re in a global pandemic, but that doesn’t mean I can’t mourn the loss of a dream that I was so close to living.