On March 12, 2020, Wellesley College students received an email informing them that due to the outbreak of COVID-19, they would be forced to evacuate campus. In the few days that followed, everybody’s world was flipped upside down.
One sentiment echoed more than others: I can’t imagine how the seniors are feeling. A few days were the summary and culmination of an entire college career for the 2020 graduating seniors. Thrown into a pre-election pandemic world lacking political, social and economic stability, the 2020 seniors began post-grad life in some of the strangest and most difficult circumstances.
A full year later, a 2021 senior, who has asked to remain anonymous, said, “A small part of me almost wishes that I had graduated in 2020. Because at least everyone was in the same boat then. Everyone had to go home, everyone was missing all these things. In 2021, we are stuck in no-man’s-land. Celebrities won’t rally to participate in our graduation. Because theoretically, some students could be at college. But not all of us.”
This senior cannot return to campus because of a recently diagnosed autoimmune disorder, which could make them more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Despite trusting the school’s honor code, they stated that one student’s erroneous decisions could affect their life forever. As a precautionary measure, it was safer to stay in their childhood home for the entirety of their senior year.
As the Spring terms move forward, most students are concerned with navigating new forms of learning: remote classes, COVID-safety procedures and social isolation to name a few. During this time, the Class of 2021 is experiencing their last semester of college, a semester that was supposed to be filled with physical connection, beloved rituals and a different world.
For many seniors, this means rediscovering Wellesley’s campus in a post-pandemic world. It means reinventing community, finding moments of alternative social connection and sinking into the unique blockmate based community. For others, however, it means watching from the sidelines, Zooming into convocation and ordering a hoop from a Google form to their current residence.
What ties these experiences together is a sense of division unique to the Class of 2021. Given that the pandemic has had time to morph into a complex social and political beast, the 2021 senior class will be marked by a scar in the shape of this complex moment in time: a time of simultaneous division and connection.
Julianne Griffin ’21 is one of these senior students. In the fall, she projected that it might not be safe to return to campus in the spring semester, and most apartment leases last a full academic year. She chose an apartment in Boston to potentially be close to Wellesley, unaware of the fact that visitors would be strictly forbidden to visit campus.
“[Now all I do is] I wake up, I do my dishes, I make myself breakfast, I do my dishes again, I sit down and do my class, I do my readings, I make myself dinner, finish my readings and then I go to bed,” Griffin said. In 2020, she was with her friends on Tower steps, enjoying a rowdy party in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. Her friends are now either scattered across the world or confined on the campus that she is not allowed to enter, at least not anymore.
Students like Griffin log into their Zoom classes every day. As time passes, they too are building their own version of a senior year. On one hand, she cannot see her friends or her college like she expected to. On the other, she is navigating the beauty of a first apartment and the joy of sinking into her classes, which are helping her redefine her passions like never before. It might not be ideal, but she finds it beautiful nonetheless. And despite the isolation, she is not alone.
There is solace in collective division because it forces new forms of connection. Last year, the 2020 seniors were forced to act rapidly, saying their goodbyes to college for what they knew would be forever. This ended in shared drinks, tender embraces and many tears. 2021 seniors, on the other hand, have to say goodbye to their expectations, and the nature of this moment in time makes for a slower ending. There cannot be shared drinks nor tender embraces, and tears can feel redundant. But there is connection and there is pride to this time. Nobody has done this before, and that is a senior year worth remembering.