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Looking back on a year spent looking forward

Reflecting on a year we spent waiting for COVID-19 to end

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I’m sick of hearing people talk about 2020. It was a rough year, but if I had a nickel for every time someone told me it was a rough year, I would have enough money to pay next semester’s tuition. But as the end of the school year draws closer, I’m not sure how to respond. In a way, it feels as if the year never even started. I’ve spent the last 12 months waiting for COVID-19 to go away. At first, I thought things would go back to “normal” before my senior prom. Then, I assumed summer would show us an end to the pandemic. Next, it was fall semester. When fall came, and we were still six feet apart, I set my eyes on spring semester. All of these milestones that should have been memorable moments became obsolete as I set my eyes on the next possible opportunity for normalcy. 

So when I go back home for the summer, reunited with relatives, neighbors and friends from high school — six feet apart, of course — I’m not sure what I’m going to say when they ask about my year. Finding myself at a loss to answer that question is making me realize that maybe while I was waiting for the year to start, it moved forward without me. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Did I waste the year by setting my sights on a better tomorrow? Was it a mistake to spend my time wishing the pandemic was over? I don’t think so. No one is happy that our lives have been interrupted, put on hold for over a year now. But apart from being unexpected, to say the least, this year was also unique. Not only is college a unique time in our lives, but this season of quarantining, masking and social distancing — fingers crossed — is also quite different from anything else we will ever experience again. Maybe it would have been better to pay more attention to the people, places and events taking place around me. 

However, regardless of where I was looking, I still lived through my first year of college. I made new friends, went to classes, took finals, ate in the dining halls and so much more as I stepped into this new identity as a Cavalier. There are lessons I learned and memories I made that I didn’t even realize were happening until I saw them in the rear view mirror. For example, even though I have minimal artistic talent, I can still benefit from the occasional painting, singing or crafting session, and I’ve learned that art doesn’t have to be good in order to be beneficial. We also learned to adapt — I have so many good memories of nights spent staying up late playing Among Us with friends who live miles away. And the more I think about it, I’m realizing that not even coronavirus could make the year a total wash. 

Perhaps I blew off my first year too quickly, but it was still filled with small, beautiful moments such as eating dumplings on the Lawn, watching movies with my roommate or dressing up for Halloween — this school year offered me so much more than I expected it to. And when I look through my camera roll, a few bad selfies show me that I am not the same person I was when we entered lockdown 12 long months ago. I’ve grown so much — learning to be more myself, a better friend and more informed than I could have imagined a year ago. 

Now I know what I’m going to tell my neighbors, my friends and my family when we pull back into my driveway at home. I’ll share with them the lessons I learned about myself, about life in a dorm and about college. I’ll tell them that even though it took place during a global pandemic, my first year of college still managed to give me memories and wisdom that will last a lifetime — not least thanks to the photos on my phone. 

One of those pieces of wisdom — perhaps the most important — that I’ll take with me as we hopefully come to the end of the coronavirus, is that there’s nothing to gain by focusing on the future. Sure, it’s good to plan and prepare, but by letting the prospect of a better day steal me away from the present, I only lost the time I spent looking ahead. I’m reminded of that old, cliche maxim that says the present is so called because it’s a gift. If anyone told me that during the past year, I probably wouldn’t have received it well. I’m definitely not saying coronavirus was a gift, but I’m wondering what more it could have given me if only I had paid attention while it was here. 

Caitlyn Kelley is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at