Being in the middle of a pandemic with online classes and a virtual convocation was not the way I expected my undergraduate experience to end. This past year has been exhausting and isolating for everyone, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that many have had to endure these changes while dealing with a lot more stress and devastation than I had to experience. That being said, and speaking on behalf of university students in general, this year sucked.
My friends and I were texting recently about our upcoming graduation, and we shared in this strange disappointment of classes wrapping up, in our homes, over screens, and without much catharsis. While in the flurry of essay-writing and exam prep, we didn’t have the time or energy to really think about the fact that we’re actually graduating, despite the fact that we had been prepping for this moment all year. We had been stuck in our stuffy apartment, literally crying and screaming out of frustrating while applying to grad school. The months kept passing, we received acceptances, we were forced to move back home due to the pandemic, and we had to make tough decisions regarding our future plans. I chose to accept an offer of admission that lands me on the opposite side of Canada, and in a city I’ve never visited.
I still have a few final papers and exams left, but the dust is finally beginning to settle. All these years of hard-work, new experiences, and growing up together is strangely anti-climactic. The idea of a Zoom convocation feels absurd when, just over a year ago, the idea of being stuffed inside Convocation Hall like a pack of sardines was something we expected, almost dreaded, and had inevitably taken for granted. When messaging my friends, we were most disheartened about missing the little moments, which feels painful now that we’re less numb from the stress of the school year. The image of us in caps and gowns, taking pictures together in King’s College Circle while our family members engage in kind but awkward small talk is a crystal clear vision. Yet, the reality is vastly different.
In-person convocation or not, my undergrad has changed me in ways that I can be proud of. Imposter syndrome hit me hard in the beginning, and it’s still something I’m learning to overcome today. I received many grades that I wished had been higher, and I lived through many instances of rejection that took a stab at my ego. But I learned how to pick myself up after being let down—a muscle I’ll have to use after graduation as well. Because life will continue, and with it the inescapable ebbs and flows.
Interning at the Multi-Faith Centre was also an eye-opening opportunity. Attending events and group meetings made me realize how much I enjoyed hearing about others’ experiences. As someone who doesn’t have a strong connection to any specific religion, I was able to appreciate how faith and community touched peoples’ lives in ways I couldn’t fully understand had I not attended. Spiritality and religion often brought people a sense of peace and a shared duty to love and take care of one another. Whether I knew it while I was attending the events or not, in retrospect, simply being in those spaces–whether it was in-person or online–grounded me. They were bubbles of respect and kindness, with attendees who had a pure desire to simply know more about a specific faith or practice.
Attending events also helped me put things into perspective as well. Some weeks I was drowning in school work, or I’d feel anxious that I wasn’t achieving enough, like I was perpetually falling behind. Participating in the Multi-Faith Centre events took me away from the stress of grades, which always seemed trivial in comparison to the bigger questions–like the divine, our connection to one another and the earth itself, and our social responsibility to care for others.
Looking back on undergrad feels heavy because there’s a lot to be grateful for, and there’s a lot to mourn. It’s an almost overwhelming feeling of joy and loss—the hardest part is being unable to be physically present with friends who are experiencing the same emotions. Letting go is always bitter-sweet, but I’m excited for new beginnings.