My undergraduate experience has been bookended by two profoundly defining moments: the presidential election one month into my freshman year and the coronavirus outbreak the last half of my senior year.
What came in the middle was beautiful in all the ways college can be: I met the most brilliant people I’ve ever known, I wrote my heart out for The Daily, I spent spring breaks chasing sunsets down the Oregon coast and—within it all—I even went to class.
This was my last quarter at the UW. What a way to graduate! I’m grateful to be healthy, safe and privileged, though. That’s mostly what I’m hearing from other students who are still here around campus. Those who had to go home seem significantly more bummed out.
Everyone’s a little terrified to be finishing school at a time like this. My roommates, who are sports journalists, are out of work for the foreseeable future. They’ve already graduated, so they’re playing “Animal Crossing” and drinking cocktails on the patio. Another friend graduated early, planning on working on a political campaign. But few campaigns are responding to emails these days, so he got himself a puppy.
While I’m glad I can finish my degree, I’m disappointed to have to do all my classes online. It’s hard to focus, and I usually love getting to know my teachers and classmates in a way that’s just not possible over Zoom.
But somehow, I’m not surprised. All along, my peers and I have shared a sense of uncertainty about the years ahead. The political chaos that has unfolded during our time in college didn’t pair well with our leaders and decision-makers ignoring climate change and an ever-growing wealth gap.
I knew graduating and figuring out what follows would be difficult, but I still didn’t see myself making decisions about my career based on who I want to be at a time that feels like the end of the world. It felt like a crisis was inevitable, but not so soon. I’ve been privileged enough to have always known that I would go to college and that it would probably be at the UW. I’ve been waiting for the day my graduation photo would go up next to my brother’s that my mom framed eight years ago.
I spent years planning to work in healthcare policy and equity. My hope had been to do population health research before graduate school. But a few days into quarantine, while watching the HBO series “Chernobyl” in some attempt to learn how others have lived through what felt like the end of the world, I realized there’s only one place for me during a time like this: the emergency room. Whenever school reopens, I’ll start working to finish up my medical school requirements.
So it’s OK. I’ll get that graduation photo in the mid-June sunshine raining down in front of Husky Stadium whenever I finish up my graduate studies in medicine some years down the line.
I’ve had one realization between Zoom classes, “Call of Duty” missions and night shifts at the youth shelter on the Ave: A lot of what we planned doesn’t really matter anymore. But what we do in the next few years—for our health, for one another and for the planet—matters more than anything. We are the last generation that can make a change.