Here’s the thing – do I even have the right to say “welcome back” to a place where we are not?
Ah, but academia is not so much a place as it is the opportunity to store precious knowledge into that squishy pink information processor inside our skulls, and we’re still doing that, right? So I can still say “Welcome back”…to education.
If your summer was anything like mine, I may be welcoming you back to the screen you do your work on: a laptop or desktop screen, as opposed to the screen of your phone or TV. (If your summer was even more like mine, you are probably migrating back from your Animal Crossing Device – I mean, your Nintendo Switch.)
And who is welcoming you back, you may ask? It is I, Jaclyn, your English Department student blogger for one more year! I’m entering my fourth (well, fifth, with Co-op, but who’s counting? Me, definitely me) and final year, and it is even more bitter and more sweet than I imagined.
It was always going to be bittersweet. Bitter because I love being a student as opposed to an adult, and sweet because I get to flee from the two energy vampires that take up residence in my throat: Essays and Exams. The extra bitter taste comes from missing out on the things I never thought I’d have to miss for longer than a summer: the library, the quad, in-person lectures, classrooms with students who share my interests (even if that interest is just a passing grade), bonding time with the friends I’ve made on campus, and office hours. Who knew one could miss office hours? At the same time, I get the extra sweetness of no hour-long bus rides in the morning or at rush hour, no two-hour bus rides during the hectic winter months, and more time with my puppy.
And yet, more bitter things. I will most likely not have a graduation ceremony, or wear a cap and gown. I will not have serendipitous breaks between classes with the friends I have made these past few years. I will not get to give my professors a proper thank you and goodbye…which is only half-true – I plan to be a very active alumna once campus opens up again. They haven’t seen the last of me! I suspect I will want some closure, and I intend to get it. But hey, like I said, graduating was always going to be bittersweet.
While I will be missing campus very much, I’m still excited to be “back.” I am a student who, every September, gets pre-emptively proud of how much better I’m going to be this semester, how ahead of the readings I will get, how many extracurriculars I will do…and as you can imagine, every November I am begging simultaneously for more time and for all of it to be over. So, as I write this, I am at my most optimistic. I know how it goes, year after year, and I still can’t wait to be a part of it.
After all, we all have to pick our struggles. And I pick essays; I pick mornings so early the sun is still asleep; I pick Roosters breakfasts all week; I pick throwing my money at Starbucks and Booster Juice; I pick raising my hand (turning on my mic?) in front of a group of students I fear are smarter than me and know it; I pick formulating messy thoughts into coherent sentences with lots of “likes” and “ums”; I pick trudging into office hours (Big Blue Button rooms and one-on-one Zoom calls?) with professors I respect and trying to say anything except “please help me, please.” If you’re reading this, you have picked this struggle, too.
So welcome back to the struggle.
Psychotherapist and author Esther Perel once said, in regards to relationships: “Every couple is either going to see the cracks in their relationship or the light that shines through the cracks.” I’m going to suggest that we all have a relationship with education, each of us with a unique history of cyclical hardships. Your cracks may be the procrastination you just can’t shake, the morning classes you just can’t make it to, the essays you just can’t submit without needing an extension.
The cracks are inevitable. I mean, look around. Some days in this world, this era, “these difficult times,” it feels like the cracks are everywhere: across the world, in grocery stores, on empty streets, beneath our feet. The cracks come to meet us. The light, we have to find.
I won’t pretend I’m great at finding the light. But as we enter a strange new semester, I invite you to grab a flashlight and join me in considering what we still have, despite all that we don’t. I’ll get us started:
– (Despite the fact that this is my second laptop since I started university), I have a laptop that will serve me until the end of my degree.
– (Despite the fact that I can’t see them, and many have graduated already), I have friends in my program.
– (Despite all the classes I couldn’t take during my final year), I am satisfied with all the courses I did manage to squeeze in.
– (Despite all the professors I admire whose classes I couldn’t take), I have professors this year who are friendly and familiar faces.
– (Despite my sadness that I won’t be able to meet with my dear colleagues in the Creative Writing Concentration in person), I get to take a writing workshop, which is always a welcome break from essay writing, in my final semester.
– (Despite how much time she took up this summer, preventing me from getting ahead in my readings, which I absolutely, definitely would have done), I have a puppy who brings me joy.
– (Despite my fear of feeling disconnected from school this semester) I get to do this: write this blog, as a student, to my fellow students.
As your student blogger, my goal is to speak to the universal experience of being a student in our lovely English department. However, now more than ever, I feel like there is no universal experience. I can’t pretend to speak to all of our feelings right now. Maybe you’re ecstatic that school is online because you live far from campus and you work best in your bed; maybe you’re really worried because your attention span is shaky as it is and your living situation doesn’t lend itself to productivity. Maybe this isn’t bittersweet at all because it’s just great! Maybe it’s a nightmare you’re not sure you’re prepared to handle.
These past few months, we have all been impacted so differently by this invisible threat to our health. I can’t promise anything except for this: however you’re feeling, someone else is feeling it, too. We humans are unique, but not THAT unique.
My hope is that you connect with someone this year – someone you already know, or perhaps a Zoom rectangle you click with – who feels the way you do, and can provide you a bit of relief in knowing that we are all (brace yourself for the quickest growing paradox-turned-cliché of the year) “alone together.”
I can’t possibly end on that note. So let me tell you about my aforementioned puppy. Her name is Goji; she’s an Old English Bulldog; she’s three months old, and everybody who meets her announces quite valiantly that they would die for her. She loves car rides, napping on laps, and recently learned the command “gimme kiss,” so now I truly don’t feel like she needs to learn anything else.
Welcome back, English kids. Let’s just… *awkwardly tries to do a handshake that neither of us were ready for* do this.
Your student blogger,