Voices: A Senior’s Goodbye

Category:  Opinions
Tuesday, April 21st, 2020 at 5:51 PM

Like many college students, I complained about going to class. Every day I’d wake up and dread my commute from Erie to Edinboro, wishing I could forget my responsibilities and stay in bed. I’d get to class, try not to stare at the clock, then leave and find a friend to complain with about our busy schedules, our latest assignments and our upcoming exams.   

Don’t get me wrong, even then I cherished my education. I knew I was privileged to be in college, but I didn’t fully appreciate it. Like many college students, I was excited and relieved when spring break began. I was happy to have a week to myself to prepare for the last few weeks of an undergraduate career. I couldn’t believe I’d be graduating in just a couple of months, and wondered what my last day of class would be like.  

Little did I know, I’d already had it.  

Now when I think about the lucky girl who had a reason to get out of bed every day, a reason to make an hour-long round trip to another town, I’m ashamed of my complaints. I didn’t realize what lectures meant to me, how much I enjoyed discourse with fellow students and my professors, and how large an impact EUP had on my everyday life.   

Within a few days of the announcement that the rest of the semester would be online, I was struck by a profound sense of longing⁠ for my “old life,” especially my afternoons spent in the library. Worse, I found myself consumed by a potent mix of grief and bitter disappointment, as the conferences I’d been preparing research for since 2019 began to cancel, one by one. Not only would I never sit in lecture again, but my senior research project would probably go largely uncelebrated.

Overcome by an unshakable feeling that all my hard work over the years has been for nothing, and a consequent depression, I fell behind in my (now) online classes. I managed to fight through my depressive episode, but I wondered how other seniors were coping with the loss of our last semester. 

I reached out to others and they confirmed my suspicion that many seniors and graduate students were feeling lost. Layne Chatfield, a senior focused on social work, said, “This quarantine is screwing my chances for post-bachelor employment.”  

When I asked Rachel Wolford, a senior from Mercyhurst majoring in painting, how she felt about our lost semester, she simply said, “Confused.”  

For fine arts graduate students, thesis shows that are months and years in the making have been cancelled or postponed. Graduate metals artist Jenn Lau, spotlighted in The Spectator earlier this spring, was devastated when her thesis show was cancelled. Still, she continues to work on her pieces from home in the hopes of rescheduling.  

In order to meet her graduation requirements, Lau has evolved her concept by doing a smaller exhibition of metal harnesses designed to fashionably lay over face masks, managing to make relevant art despite the many setbacks she faced. I believe her description of her changing attitude toward the shutdown is one many senior students can relate to.  

“My thoughts changed every single day. At first, I didn't want to believe it.” She continued: “I took it really hard and essentially blacked out for three weeks. I focused on other things aside from art, because I was just in shock. I had finally gotten my momentum going as a graduate artist, and then I felt like it was all taken away from me. My thesis show was the first time I actually fell in love with what I was doing and it was (and still will be in the future) the most important thing in the entire world to me. I had to recognize that people's safety amidst this pandemic was more important than my show. I genuinely had to accept that...and I do now. It took me a long time to come up with this new alternative idea, because I finally realized that it is important to document all of us under this crisis, recognizing a sense of togetherness and resilience. It might not be my original thesis, but in some ways it's a temporary detour that must be permanently documented until I can go back to my original project.”  

The necessity of EUP’s shutdown isn’t debatable; I am grateful that President Huang had the wisdom and courage to do what was right, regardless of popular opinion or politics. Still, I’m deeply saddened that I will never again sit in Compton Hall for class or use my student ID to buy Starbucks in the library. The first EUP class of the 2020s will not walk at graduation (at least until the fall) and many of us will not present the research we have slaved over for months. Nor will many graduating fine arts majors and grad students have the opportunity to pursue their original ideas for their final shows.  

Personally, I am haunted by the ghost of campus life; my time at EUP feels wholly unfinished, like a relationship that ends without warning or apparent cause. I complained about being at EUP, but I loved it. I loved it and I will miss it. Though the reason for the shutdown is clear, when I receive my degree in the mail this summer, I fear it won’t feel “earned.” That said, I’m hoping to find closure in the form of a goodbye. Goodbye to all the professors who helped me learn and grow into the person I am today. Goodbye to the kind women who run the food service registers, to the musty smell of the library’s sixth floor, and to the firepit I loved to read next to. Goodbye to the girl I was when I began college. Goodbye to the senior year I imagined.   

To my fellow seniors: it’s OK to be gutted by our unfortunate circumstances. It’s OK to feel lost. In these uncertain times, there is no guarantee of happiness, safety, or even life. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be a Fighting Scot. I do not remember my last day of class, but there are plenty of other days spent at EUP that I will remember for a lifetime. Here, I learned not just to strive, but to thrive. 

Goodbye EUP. And thank you.   

Tags: coronavirus

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