The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: A 2021 Graduate’s Reflections
The sun sank behind the far side of Jerry Richardson Stadium, leaving an autumn chill hanging in the air, and I reveled in the picture-perfect moment: being surrounded by my friends and 10,000 other University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte students. Emotions ran high as we roared in the wake of our victory over Western Kentucky University. The football game was filled with fellowship, camaraderie, and the highs of celebration. As much as I cherished the moment, I wish I had known that it would be the last football game I’d ever attend as a student.
Actually, there were a lot of “lasts” that came sooner than I expected.
I’m part of the Class of 2021.
We aren’t quite considered the “COVID Class” (shoutout to the c/o 2020), nor are we the “Return-to-Normalcy-Class” (I’m talking to you, c/o 2022). We fall somewhere in the middle. Our last three semesters of school were marked by uncertainty, hopefulness, and altered expectations.
Other members of this class (and even those who aren’t in school) might relate when I say that we danced the fine line between mourning the things that we lost and appreciating the things that we did have. While we still felt the virus’s effects, people made an effort to make things as normal as possible until the development and distribution of the vaccine during our spring semester.
I often found myself caught in this dichotomy of mourning and appreciation throughout the last year and a half of my academic career—marked by the good, the bad, and the ugly. In conversations with friends and fellow graduates, I know that my experiences below provide a glimpse into the lives of many members of the class of 2021. And while it’s important to focus on the good, I think it is also equally important to identify and learn from the hardships we endured over the last year and a half.
While it would be easy to focus on all the difficulties that arose in the last year and a half, many unexpected blessings surfaced.
Discovering new passions. As virtually everything closed and UNC Charlotte decided to remain mostly online (even into the fall), I had a lot more free time. At first, it was filled with what you might expect: binge-watching shows with my brother, spending more time with my dogs, and wrapping up classes. However, as this “new normal” became more normal, I discovered new passions. In the last year and a half, I’ve picked up several hobbies, including nature journaling, birdwatching, photography, and bodybuilding. Now, I cannot envision my life without any of these things. They’ve brought a lot of joy, stress relief, and growth.
Finding a transitional community. I spent my time in-person at UNC Charlotte deeply involved in our InterVarsity chapter, where I met some of my closest friends, living life with them and growing in the Lord together. When COVID-19 scattered us all back to our respective homes, many of them outside of the Charlotte area, I suddenly got a glimpse of what my InterVarsity community would be like after graduation: dispersed, preoccupied, and trying to stay connected amid the undulating demands of life. Once things began to open back up, I spent a lot of time at my local gym. I got plugged into an amazing community of people that supports, uplifts, and pushes each other inside and outside the gym. I’ve grown close to many people in the months leading up to graduation. This helped make the transition from student to full-time adult easier. I didn’t feel the loss of belonging or community as heavily as I might have because I found a transitional community outside of school.
Like many members of the Class of 2021, I took several hits in the three semesters leading up to graduation.
Getting COVID. I tested positive for COVID-19 in September, not long after the start of our semester. My professors and mentors were incredibly understanding, for which I will always be appreciative. Nonetheless, it was difficult to rest and recover with the list of make-up work hanging over my head.
Video Calls. I think by now it would be safe to say that many people have a love-hate relationship with video calls. While it allowed us to stay connected to a degree, Zoom fatigue is definitely a thing that many college students can relate to.
Being half in/half out of the student mindset. I struggled to stay in the academic mindset consistently during my senior year. As a member of the Crown Scholars Program—a four-year, research-focused academic full-ride—a member of multiple honors programs, and a double major, it was quite important that I stayed focused on my academics, but as I juggled work, athletic training, extracurriculars, job applications, and school, I often found myself failing to give classes my full attention. There were many late nights and procrastinated assignments (well, more than one would expect from the typical college student). I know others could relate as many of my fellow students struggled with the same thing. We made it, though!
Realizing that many “lasts” had come sooner than expected. I struggled with this the most because there was nothing I could do to change the way things were: I had been to my last football game, sat in my last classroom lecture, gone to my last InterVarsity large group, and eaten my last dining hall meal without even knowing it. While this did help rip the transition off like a Band-Aid, it took away much of the sentiment surrounding senior year.
In all of this, I saw the Lord show up countless times. I learned so many things about God, myself, and life in the last year and a half. Through the good, the bad, and the ugly, I wouldn’t change a thing about my senior year. I learned to not take “normal” for granted because at any given moment it could become different. I learned that a great community has the power to transcend distance and time. I learned to appreciate the little things.
My senior year reminded me of Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . .” (go read the rest—it’s so worth it). Though it may not have looked the way we expected it to, I am incredibly grateful for the season that was my senior year of college.
Nonetheless, it was a difficult season that many recent alumni are still trying to process. Coming from a member of the c/o 2021, here are a few ways you can be praying for recent graduates:
Remember. Pray that we remember and cherish the past with gratitude rather than with regret and longing.
Reflect. Pray that we allow ourselves the space to reflect on and process the many rapid changes in the last few years. Many of us are adjusting to being full-time adults in the real world while still trying to process the end of our academic careers.
Receive. Pray that each of us will be receptive to the things the Lord has in store for us in the coming weeks, months, and years. We have learned to not take any moment for granted, but we may also be tainted by a lack of hope in fear of unmet expectations. Pray that we trust the Lord’s goodness and his desire to provide for his children in full.
When I spend time with my chapter, whether it’s a casual hangout or a large or small group, I am continually reminded of how fantastic my community is. They breathe so much more life into me than any Riverdale twist could.