What happened to the best years of our lives?

It’s okay to be upset about the new normal

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Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Emma Garber, Assistant Op/Ed Editor

With the fall semester upon us, I am still flooded with a sense of disbelief. Though we have known for months that college life would not be normal, I still find myself reminiscing about what was and thinking about what should have been. Right now, new and returning students should be settling into life in Amherst, seeing friends and adjusting to normal college life. Instead, we are stuck grappling with the realities of a pandemic-torn world, all of us facing the “new normal.” While some will be coming to Amherst this fall, many will stay home. Some are lucky to have in-person classes, but most will be taking classes remotely.

Whatever one’s situation may be, college life will be far from typical.

When we were first sent home in March, I was both disappointed and hopeful. I reassured myself that surely things would return to normal by the fall. Now, like many, I find myself reminiscing about the smallest details of campus life: the beauty of the campus pond, the view from the highest stories of the library, the sushi at Hampshire Dining Commons. It will be the things I previously took for granted —running into a friend while walking across campus, catching the PVTA just as it’s about to leave, waiting in line at the Mullins Center for a hockey game — that I will miss the most.

As a rising junior, I now understand how lucky I am to have these memories. I recognize the pain of the missed opportunities for new students. These small memories that I now cling to are luxuries that incoming freshmen and transfer students cannot share. I am sure there is frustration in the continued wait. College is a time to meet new people, challenge one’s beliefs and experience freedom for perhaps the first time. Now, many find themselves stuck in their parents’ homes, isolated from their peers, waiting to taste this alleged freedom.

Lately, I find myself grappling with the larger issues at hand, more significant than simple cravings for Hamp sushi. With the pandemic came the biggest economic downfall since the Great Depression. As company layoffs and closings multiply each day, realizing that, as college students, we will soon enter a collapsing job market is a daunting reality.

Similarly, I recognize that the pain goes far deeper than disappointment for many students. One recent CDC survey found that approximately 41 percent of respondents reported a decline in their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It goes without saying that the pandemic has affected everyone. As the country grieves the loss of thousands and faces an uncertain economic future, one’s own personal feelings may seem small in comparison. I contest this; whatever you are feeling right now is valid and important. As we now head into the fall semester, it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be disappointed about the opportunities lost. It’s okay to be scared for the future. People always say that college is supposed to be the best four years of your life. To be blunt, the coming months won’t be our glory days.

Of course, we must be vigilant about combatting the virus. As much as this realization stings, we are still in the midst of a pandemic. Though we will miss the old normal, the sacrifices we will make this semester are necessary. Keep wearing a mask, keep your distance from others and avoid large social gatherings. Remember that ignoring these guidelines will prolong our current situation. Likewise, remember that your actions in the coming months affect more than just you: By ignoring social distancing guidelines you are putting others in danger.

I’ll end with a silver lining: First, know that however you are feeling right now, you are not alone. The pain, frustration, fear and isolation you might be feeling is shared across our school’s community, as well as across the country. Though the new normal will impact some more than others, we all stand in solidarity with one another, all sharing in what has been lost. If you are coping with mental health challenges, know that there are resources out there for you. It’s important to remember that this will eventually pass. This pandemic might have changed what is supposed to be the best years of our lives, but that means the best is yet to come.

Emma Garber is an Assistant Op/Ed Editor and can be reached at [email protected].  Follow her on Twitter @EmmaGarber1.