Bwog Staff reflects on a year spent in the pandemic.

The elephant in the room this week, the thing everyone can’t seem to stop thinking, talking, reminiscing about: it’s been one year since we were kicked off of campus. This wasn’t the college experience any of us wanted, but for better or for worse, this is what we’re getting.

Processing this year looks different for everyone, but we have all been deep in thought, coming to our own independent conclusions. Here is a collection of reflections, from Bwog Staffers young and old, about what they’ve been thinking about this week.

On school:

“I’ve been thinking a lot about Columbia’s ‘grind culture.’ The pass/fail spring semester, and then pass/fail classes this year were such a blessing. Being able to bomb a midterm and just…not feel the harsh consequence has done wonders for my mental health. It’s made me think about how maybe we should all be cutting ourselves a little more slack in normal life. Especially in the spring, when nobody cared about a curve or about trying to be the best, I felt like people regained some of their empathy towards each other. I think that in pitting us against each other constantly, Columbia sometimes makes us all worse people. And with pass/fail, I think we got to see a taste of what it could be like if we stopped the rat race for a second.”

“Taking classes remotely has just reinforced for me how much tests suck. I feel so lucky to have had a few professors that have turned their exams into take-home, open-note ones (which they should be in general!), but then there are also those professors who refuse to adapt. I know there’s something to be said for routine and fairness by trying to make exams as they used to be, but I feel like now is not the time to cling to the way things used to be done.”

“If there’s one good thing that taking classes remotely has done for me, it’s that it made me put things in perspective. I feel like I used to get stuck in a void in my dorm room, where if I didn’t understand something, I would just spiral and break down. But being at home has made me take a step back and realize that there are indeed things that are more important than just school. I’ve been keeping up a better sleep schedule and finding ways to talk myself down from stress. I think part of it is that now things like office hours don’t feel so daunting since they’re just a click away. So maybe, just maybe, something good came out of this terrifying and terrible year.”

“A lot of assigned homework is extra. I didn’t do everything, and I turned out fine. Also, not maxing out your semester credit limit is perfectly fine; not taking five classes every semester is actually expected. It’s a pandemic, yo! Take a nap.”

“I’m a first-year, but I was on a gap year when the pandemic broke out. I remember seeing all those pictures of people on the lawn laughing in the sunlight—at this point, people in my program were starting to panic, scared how they would get home. My old high school was the first in the country to shut down—we even made The Late Show. My dad wasn’t allowed at work. As I watched Columbia students, out on the lawn, I remember thinking ‘I can’t wait to go there, be one of those students, lying on my friend’s lap as we photosynthesize away our stress.’ Now I want to laugh. The weird thing about having taken a gap year is that I graduated high school and assumed I’d have a normal college life: I’d find out I hate frat parties, I’d try to pretend I was someone I’m not, kiss someone and immediately regret it. Now? I’m in a near-abandoned building, mask on my face, with residual COVID-19 symptoms that will impact me for the rest of my life. This is not the college I imagined when I graduated high school; the pandemic hadn’t even started. I got to see some of my classmates have the “normal college experience” and I wonder if it is better to have loved and lost or to never know what college could look like.”

“Starting college during the pandemic has been a really strange experience and because I’ve never known a Barnard College that wasn’t emanating from my laptop, I really don’t know how it would have gone for me otherwise. Maybe I’d be having the best time of my life, or maybe I’d be overworked and depressed. There’s really no point speculating on what would have happened otherwise. What I do know is that I have found so much to love and be grateful for about my life as it is.”

“When COVID-19 hit last spring and I realized I wasn’t going to get to graduate high school, go to prom and other senior bonding events, and start college in person, I had several breakdowns. I really didn’t know how I was going to proceed knowing that everything I’d been living for had essentially been yanked away from me by a cruel cosmic chance. But in the year that’s passed, I’ve had a major perspective shift. I realized that I had been living for the future instead of (cliché alert) living in the now. So I started to make some changes geared towards enjoying my life as much as I possibly could in the new and strange landscape of virtual existence. I took some time to not do anything except read, play video games, paint, and vibe, which the previous me, an academically-strung-out highly stressed individual, would have regarded as a sign of utter failure. But I realized that having impossibly high expectations for myself that precluded all fun and inner peace had become utterly pointless. As I’ve begun taking college classes online, I’ve tried to enjoy them for the sake of learning, without prioritizing achievement over my actual interest and comfort. I haven’t made as many friends as I would have hoped to have made by now, but I’m honestly totally okay with that. Who am I competing with? Why do I want to impress people by having great grades and a never-slowing social life?”

On community and friendship:

“For me, this year was about friendship. As we left Columbia, I had a strong feeling in my gut that this was not going to be just two weeks, or even just one semester. And that fact made me really scared for friendships – would I lose friends? Certainly yes. Which of my friends would I lose? Looking back, it’s been interesting to see which friendships survived the distance and which didn’t. Maintaining friendships is hard as it is, but it’s even harder if you suddenly have no common ground, but it has been hard not to fault myself for losing touch. So this reflection is bittersweet: I retained so many friendships, which was honestly a surprise, and even gained some. But it’s so hard to mourn the friendships I did lose, even if I knew it was coming.”

“I didn’t realize how much I missed being in a room with people! I feel like I’ve missed out on so many potential friendships because of how impersonal Zoom is. I am very lucky to have made some friends in spite of that (through Bwog), but I do feel really cheated.”

“I learned that even if I don’t always communicate, my friends are still thinking of me, still missing me, still hoping I’m okay, and still keeping me a part of their lives! I genuinely thought that because of the pandemic, I’d lose all the friends I just made, but the shared experiences we had both before and during the pandemic somehow managed to keep us together, and I can still count on the people most important to me. And yeah, sometimes it’d be really awkward if I text out-of-the-blue and don’t know what to say, but even the smallest interactions helped me believe that our friendship is existent and not weakened by our separation.”

“Going to club meetings, even if I was too tired to log onto Zoom, actually helped me far more than I expected. First, they’re always at a regular time, so it’s mandatory social interaction for at least an hour a week. Second, by going every week, I managed to get to know a lot of the members and actually formed some really solid friendships with them. Third, even if I didn’t think I would have a good time, I was always pleasantly surprised, and each meeting reminded me why I love the clubs I’m in and why going to Columbia, despite…well everything, was still the best decision I made.”

“Some short but important things I will quickly mention but not elaborate on: the impact of a year in my hometown, a place I love maybe too much and perhaps more as a concept than a reality; the security found in friendships that are still alive now; so many ‘bonus’ months spent with my family, whom I actually like enough to truly enjoy.”

On making sense of the world:

“I think the biggest thing that I learned from the pandemic is that it wasn’t good for my mental health to imagine an “alternative” life or thinking about where I would be if COVID-19 didn’t exist. Yeah, I’m a fan of escapism because sometimes it’s necessary to think of things outside of the Now, but imagining a world where I didn’t have the friends I do now, or where I spent the year somewhere else made me really sad all the time. I guess I just kind of learned the hard way that there is no alternative, and that I have to work with what I have and love it all. In other words, even though everything was completely random, and I couldn’t control anything, I’m still beyond grateful I got to wait this pandemic out comfortably, with the exact people I needed, and with hope that when it’s all over, we’ll be back and ready for new adventures. And at the end of the day, even though the memory of this college will always be altered by the year I couldn’t go, I’m still getting a degree from my dream school, and it’s not like I’m never going to walk across campus again. I got time!”

“Even though I’ve never wanted some 9–5 office job, something ‘stable’ and ‘boring,’ something about the instability the pandemic brought made me rethink my future wants. I’ve considered a lot what is a want versus a need, and if what I wanted would be something that was best for me. There were some weeks, where I felt like I was being forced to let go of my dreams and watch them float away like a little red balloon, but there were also other weeks, where I realized that balloons do come back down at some point. During those brief moments of time when I got to reconnect with things that truly excite me, I realized that if I had chosen to make a career out of them, they would not have carried the meaning and joy they still carry because only by being forced to be away from them do I truly value them.”

“I told my therapist that I think of this year as my own version of My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, and she judged me for it and you should, too, because it’s not the aptest metaphor in many ways (for one, no sleeping pills were consumed in the duration of this year of rest and relaxation). But the concept of completely withdrawing from society—and having the privilege to do so safely and securely—and using it as a time to process and ‘fix’ what seems wrong is absolutely attractive. There is nothing like a clean narrative to help you cope with a situation. I clung to the idea that this year away from society will result in at least some good, because I did not and do not want to face the absolute pointless tragedy of it if it does not. It’s a flawed narrative, but the questions it has raised for me during this time do feel like they have actually been beneficial: What is good about isolation? What do I internalize that is harmful about what I should do and should be? How can I, in the absence of external pressures, let go of those painful ideas? I am approaching believing that I will actually emerge from this surer of myself as an individual. Of course, maybe that’s just the story I’m telling myself—and in some moments, I am terrified at how much I sound like my philosophical enemy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau—but it’s one I’ll accept.”

“Something very strange I’ve realized this year is that I romanticize the past, more so than it deserves. This year more than any, I was acutely aware of the passage of time. ‘What was I doing a year ago today?’ was a common question, as I scrolled through my camera roll. And looking back, it does seem so rosy. In March 2020, I romanticized normal life on campus. In fall 2020 I romanticized the summer and how easy it was. Now, I even catch myself romanticizing early quarantine, last spring. It’s so easy to forget the bad parts and amplify the good in the past, it’s made me realize that maybe I should be doing more of that for the present.”

“Ultimately, the most important thing I’ve gained from this past insane year is real comfort with myself. Because I had to live in this strange upside-down universe where the only thing that mattered was myself and whether I was getting through the day without breaking down crying, I came to really appreciate my own company. Being forced to be alone made me realize how valuable it is to be alone. I started off unbearably lonely, but after a year, I feel more connected with the world than I ever have before.”

Thank you for taking the time to read our thoughts. If you have reflections on the last year, feel free to leave them in the comments for the rest of the world to read as well.

campus on March 13, 2020 via my phone