Seniors, whether from high school, college have felt the effect of COVID-19 in a way that others haven’t. For our Knox seniors, graduating from college in the midst of a pandemic has shed light on what it is like to move backward when it is a time to start the rest of their life. Knox senior Maeve Mindell has felt the hardships of leaving her life at school to return back to her parent’s home in Chicago.
“My senior year was the first and only time I was truly happy at Knox,” Mindell said. “I took a leave of absence last year, and returned this year and got close to becoming who I wanted to be. If you had told me that I’d be losing this much of senior year, and specifically the Spring Term, I wouldn’t have come back to Knox this past fall. Suddenly being yanked away from a place where you’re finally growing and finding yourself after working to get to that point for years is a recipe for regression and disaster. It’s good that I got the amount of time that I had this year, but I really needed, and deserved, the closure and celebration of a final spring term.”
The pain she felt in years prior to Knox was pushed away by the thought of walking across the stage at graduation, but now she’s unsure if that day will ever come.
“It kills me that I probably won’t get graduation, because so much of college was me dreaming and begging for that day to come,” Mindell said, “Whenever I cried to my mother about how miserable I felt at Knox these past few years, she’d always say ‘Just think about how good it will feel to walk across that stage. Everyone will be cheering for you. You will have done it and no one can take that from you.’ It is excruciating to know that is no longer going to be the reality of it. I’m going to get my diploma in the mail. It’s really not the same.”
Along with losing her senior portfolio reading and final days as a student, the lack of closure seems to be haunting Mindell the most with the loss of her senior year’s Spring Term.
“I NEVER leave things on a bad note. Not with people, places, objects — anything. I spent my last 24 hours at Knox in tears. That’s probably going to haunt me for the rest of my life,” Mindell.
While Mindell believes that much of the senior experience cannot be created virtually, she pushes Knox to compensate seniors for the loss of their final term.
“I feel insensitive saying this, but you just can’t give someone the privileges of senior year virtually. It’s just not possible. The senior class has gotten a lot of open-ended sympathetic emails, but we’re still expected to do a full course load and avoid complaining to Knox about our mental health. For many people, this is a trauma, and we had no way to prepare. I keep saying they should just let us all graduate if we put forth our best effort, no questions asked, since myself and most people I know really aren’t functioning on a level where getting school done is realistic,” Mindell said, “Knox is trying. They’re doing a pretty good job, especially in a time when things are so uncertain. I just wish they realized students are just trying to function as best they can and survive without getting a deadly virus, and completing a ten-page essay that nobody has any enthusiasm for really isn’t helping anyone in the long run.”
As an extrovert, Mindell feels that she is losing her sense of identity being confined to the life of isolation. Without a way to express herself, she is seeing herself regress from being confined to one space.
“Before this pandemic, I never spent more than a day indoors on my own accord unless I was severely depressed. I am an extrovert, and my love languages are physical touch and quality time. I had centered my life around exploration, social activity and self-discovery. I really enjoyed expressing myself through my clothing and finding out what my style was. I spent this year living fearlessly and finding myself. All of that was forcefully placed on hold, and now I kind of feel lost. It really hurt to have most of the things that make me confident ripped away with no warning,” Mindell said.
As a soon to be college graduate, Mindell feels she is suffering by moving back into her childhood bedroom, under her parent’s roof. She is unsure of how to move forward with her life post-graduation, and fears that she will be confined to her parent’s home in Chicago for longer than previously planned.
“My parents and I aren’t meant to live around each other for extended amounts of time, even when we can freely leave the house. I was planning to live in Galesburg for at least the summer, mostly to get started on my own life, separate from my parents and from Chicago. I lived a really healthy life on my own, and living under my parent’s roof was reserved only for a worst-case scenario,” Mindell said.
Even with everything seeming to fall apart, Mindell has found ways to cope with the uncertainty of life in a pandemic. Between journaling and playing Bananagrams over Facetime, she seems to find joy in small moments of personal reflection.
“I have been journaling almost daily, and working on art and nonfiction writing. I repainted my childhood bedroom, which helped a lot as well. I’ve also taken on small household chores and projects, and when it’s nice out I sit on our back porch. On days where everything feels particularly miserable, I look at photo prints of my friends and my favorite memories to remind myself that good things have happened and good things will happen again,” Mindell said.
Overall, Mindell feels sympathy for other seniors in her same position and offers words of advice.
“I’d first say that I’m sorry that we got so brutally fucked over,” Mindell said. “Nobody deserved this. However, if you can learn to sit with it, and slowly accept it, it helps. I do not enjoy that this is my situation, but letting myself feel the pain, writing out my feelings on it, and not pushing it down all the time has helped me a lot. If you shove all your feelings about this under the rug, they’ll come back out and make you miserable when you can’t handle it. Trust me. Lastly, you will get through this, and it’s not forever.”