By Emily Coppella
When I walked onto campus for the last time a few weeks ago I felt like I was both at home and trespassing. I blame COVID-19 for these contradictory feelings. It’s upsetting to see my familiar haunts transform into literal ghost towns. I saw only a handful of people while wandering along the Rideau River, slowly making my way towards the quad. Instead of taking my usual daily walk around my student home in Old Ottawa South, I decided I could say a weird goodbye to my time at Carleton by physically walking it one last time.
The wind hadn’t decided if it was winter or spring. The quad was bare, only speckled with a few scratchy leaves and my trusty boots that have helped me brave every Ottawa winter. I felt dismal, not only because of the weather, but because of how anticlimactic my undergrad suddenly felt. I was never too caught up in the idea of celebrating by walking across a stage, but I was looking forward to throwing a goodbye party with my Ottawa friends and chatting with my favourite professors in the English Department lounge one last time. Fortunately, on a personal level, COVID-19 has only really impacted things “I was looking forward to,” and that in itself is something to be grateful for.
April of a final semester is made up almost entirely of me silently repeating to myself: “One day at a time.” This is a coping mechanism I fall into when life gets really busy. If looking too far ahead makes me feel overwhelmed, I just think about today. It’s like covering my ears and saying, “La la la, I can’t hear you” to far-future responsibilities and embracing the near-future ones with a grimace. It seems to work every year because I complete all my assignments.
This year though, my “la la la’s” were particularly obnoxious, in part because completing schoolwork takes double the energy when everything is online, but also because I would be closing the chapter of my undergrad and leaving the city of Ottawa. Even while packing up my bedroom – which included significant heaving of brick-like Norton anthologies – I had loud music on to distract myself from what I was actually doing. I was a robot. I turned my emotions off.
But while gazing up at buildings I used to scurry around between lectures, that emotional safety valve spluttered. By the time I was walking around Dunton Tower, I was already teary-eyed – from the wind, I would say to anyone passing by – and confused. When you’ve been in your undergrad for five years (thank you, Co-Op program) you inevitably realize around the start of the fourth year that you’re ready to move onto the next thing, no matter how elusive that thing may seem. So I’ve been ready to say farewell to my time at Carleton – at least for now – for longer than I thought, and yet at the same time, I felt unable to let it go. Perhaps this is how guardians feel when they drop their kids off at university. This push and pull of letting go and holding on is so bittersweet.
How did the time fly by so fast?
I tried to analyze this feeling of wanting to stay and wanting to move on while looking up at Southam Hall where I spent most of my English classes. This is a beautiful curse that falls on English majors. You have a tendency to analyze everything.
I concluded that I just wanted a little more time at Carleton. Perhaps if I had known in March 2020 that I wouldn’t be able to return to on-campus learning, I would have milked my final months for all they were worth and felt satisfied at the end of this term. But, I truly believe that if COVID-19 had not happened, I would have felt just as conflicted about leaving. Carleton was so good to me that no matter how my undergrad ended, I would have always wanted “a little more time.” COVID-19 was an interruption, a challenge, but it didn’t fundamentally change the conclusion of this chapter. I graduated. The class of 2021 graduated. And we did that during a time like this!
I no longer feel like graduating was anticlimactic. Whether we were in a pandemic or not, I think my time at Carleton would have always ended quietly and softly. This is because walking on a stage or getting a diploma are all great forms of recognition, but the true goodbyes are in the quiet moments. They’re often done alone.
So strolling around Carleton by myself with my constantly analyzing and constantly emotional English-major mind seemed like a perfect goodbye to me.
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