All of the things I could’ve done…but probably wouldn’t have: A student’s reflection on COVID-19
by: Shaun Smith
Five years ago, at my first orientation at the University of Windsor, older students that spoke with us echoed one thought: “I wish I’d become involved sooner.”
The word “involved” means a lot of different things on a university campus. For some, it might be as simple as applying themselves properly in their studies and getting good grades. That’s how I, as a freshman, interpreted it. But it can also mean an entire world’s worth of things that a student entering university cannot yet comprehend.
Over the course of my time in university, I played intramural sports, participated in faculty events, went to varsity sports games, occasionally used the recreational facilities, went to parties, made the Dean’s list multiple times, was my program’s valedictorian, and capped it off by going on a student exchange to Belgium, just prior to COVID-19. My freshman self could never have predicted any of that, beyond going to parties.
Yet as I sit here, having been stuck off campus for the past academic year and a half, I cannot help but think of all the things that I did not do in my time in university.
There is no one specific thing I wish that I had done. It’s more of a collective thing. I do not believe it’s uncommon when someone enters a new stage of life to look back and think about what they could have done differently. Be it graduation, moving to a new city, marriage, having kids, changing jobs – there is a tendency to reflect on the experience that you will never quite be able to replicate ever again.
For me, that’s certainly true. However, unlike certain other milestones I have met and passed, I will leave university feeling especially melancholy. I always believed time was on my side, right up until it wasn’t.
When COVID-19 hit last year, I had just returned from my exchange in Belgium, and had another two- and a-bit academic years remaining between finishing up undergrad and completing a two-year master’s program. There would be time, I told myself. There was even the excitement of getting to be a part of a whole new class, meeting new people, continuing to interact with older friends, and all in the comfort of my hometown. Grad school, I told myself, would be an excellent opportunity to do all of the things I had put off, for some reason or other, in undergrad.
It has been a year since those thoughts, and a lot has changed. Many peers from my undergrad class have left the city, going wherever they can to find work in an economy overshadowed by the pandemic. A few others applied late to grad school and went wherever they could. Either way, my old social circle was decimated.
And as for my new grad colleagues? They’re great people, and we have fun, but it is marred by the fact I have only met a handful in person, and even then, just once. All the experiences we would’ve had together from barhopping to sports, to studying, to just hanging out, never happened.
All of this, in both myself and others, has seemingly created a pent-up ball of anticipation and determination to live life to its absolute utmost as soon as possible. People speak endlessly about what they will do as soon as COVID is gone, from student life to vacations, to getting fit at the gym, etc. It reminds me of one time of the year in particular: New Year’s Day.
At that lovely time of year, fresh off the belt-loosening Christmas dinners, and the gifts we all give, a certain crop of New Year’s resolutions come about. Maybe it’s losing weight, perhaps it’s being better with money, or even getting into (or out of) a relationship. However, what usually ends up happening? The first goes to the gym in January before giving up, the second is frugal until they see something they especially want, and the third usually find themselves just as emotionally unfulfilled as before.
While I find myself desperate to do all the things I currently cannot, in all probability, I will not vicariously live out the dreams I have dreamt up in my lockdown room. I may do some extra things right at the outset of a COVID-free world, but in all likelihood, those dreams will die as I regress to the mean of my normal behaviour. And maybe that’s okay because that’s a person I’m genuinely happy to be.
But I’d have liked the chance to find out otherwise.