Anna Gilbert with suitemates.jpg

Anna Gilbert (left) and her Davidson College suitemates, Meghan Matheny, Anna Dolder and Anna Brown, in September 2019. “We have all been friends since our first year at Davidson and shared an on-campus apartment this year,” Gilbert said.

Graduating from college in the year 2020 felt auspicious.

The allusion to perfect vision seemed like a good omen for what would come after my fellow seniors and I departed from Davidson College’s campus and began our lives in the so-called “real world.”

During our time at college, my friends and I developed increasingly clear visions of how we were going to use our skills and interests to contribute to the world. The intangible goals we had dreamed of during our first few years as undergrads no longer seemed out of reach as we began applying to jobs, fellowships and graduate schools.

As senior year unfolded, our plans became concrete. One of my friends secured a position with the NIH to pursue her interest in biochemistry; another friend’s knack for coding landed her a job with Google on the West Coast.

I learned in January that I would be heading to the Wilmington area to work in a primary care clinic as part of a two-year AmeriCorps program.

Leaving college in 2020 felt like an affirmation of the clarity that my classmates and I had finally gained on how to achieve the futures we wanted for ourselves.

In early March, those clear lenses fell from our eyes. The rapid and violent spread of COVID-19 has left us with a distorted version of the world we formerly lived in and hazy predictions of what the future holds.

The virus has already altered the landscape of our society, claiming the lives of more than 60,000 people in the U.S. alone. We wonder who else will be affected and how many lives will ultimately be lost.

We also wonder what it will mean to leave college during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, grasping for the possibility that it will not be as dismal as it sounds.

As far as I know, my AmeriCorps position is still waiting, but frozen hiring processes have left many of my friends panicked about the prospect of finding jobs.

With our final two months of college spent at home, we are also struggling to find a sense of closure for this period of our lives.

Our last few days on campus were a blurry mix of tearful goodbyes, desperate attempts to cross off bucket list items, and periods of intense grieving for the loss of our final months of college.

We continue to grieve at home. My friends and I see each other during our weekly trivia and game nights on Zoom, which creates some semblance of normalcy. We have started a virtual book club and watch our favorite TV shows together while video chatting. We even mail each other handwritten letters.

These ways of staying connected help us feel better, but we know we are missing out on a lot.

The last months of senior year were supposed to bring thesis defenses, senior recitals, awards ceremonies and other celebrations of what we accomplished during our undergraduate years.

On May 17, my classmates and I were supposed to walk across the stage and shake hands with Davidson President Carol Quillen, receiving physical proof of our readiness for adult life in the form of a diploma. Now that ceremony will happen online, with an in-person event being planned for a future date.

While I am grateful that Davidson has postponed rather than altogether cancel commencement, I can’t help but feel discouraged at the thought of spending May 17 apart from my friends, classmates and professors.

I feel like we had been running a marathon and got stopped at mile 25. My friends and I joke that we should rebrand ourselves the Class of 2019.75.

Not only is our graduation ceremony postponed, but we also are receiving one final test: How will we respond to this upheaval?

Will we prove our resilience, bouncing back from this catastrophe with strength and solidarity? Or will we let it get the best of us, using anger and cynicism to mask the fear and vulnerability this crisis has generated?

These are intimidating questions. Fortunately, this is not an individual exam; we can work together to answer them.

Our 2020 vision has been taken away from us, but we still have many resources on which to rely, including compassion, creativity and adaptability.

I hope we will band together and become stronger in the face of adversity and uncertainty, that we intentionally re-introduce the parts of our pre-COVID reality that made life better and do away with the things that perpetuated selfishness, intolerance and consumerism.

We can move forward placing higher value on our relationships and prioritizing the well being of our planet and all its inhabitants.

We are experiencing a collective trauma, but we have the opportunity to build a better world in the wake of this disaster.

Class of 2020, let’s make that our legacy.

Anna Gilbert is a graduate of Greensboro Day School and will soon graduate from Davidson College.

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