Local Opinion: Class of 2020 will always remember the lessons learned
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Local Opinion: Class of 2020 will always remember the lessons learned

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

When I returned to Tucson at the conclusion of my spring break, I was fully aware that I was about to experience an unprecedented semester. Like nearly every other college kid in the nation, I had become a student of an online university overnight.

Almost 26 million college students have been affected by COVID-19, whether they’ve shifted to online instruction or whether their universities are closing permanently. And the disease has taken an undeniable toll on students at the University of Arizona like myself. I’m fortunate for my circumstances, but many of my classmates ended the semester by logging into classes from Wi-Fi hot spots in cars, from halfway around the world at 5:30 a.m., or by simply disappearing.

It would be inappropriate to suggest that this semester held more good notes than bad ones. Students have lost family members, have returned to unhealthy home situations, and have seen their mental health deteriorate severely. But for at least some of the negatives that we’ve incurred, there are positives to hang onto.

For better or for worse, the ways we’ve struggled will shape the ways in which we grow, and our difficulties have already led to noticeable transformations. Over the course of a normal school year, countless students become overwhelmed, anxious and depressed, but many never seek help. In the face of COVID-19, my professors have helped create a space where students’ emotional well-being is the top priority, making a number of self-help resources available and even offering their own ears for those of us who need to share our struggles. This virus has started critical conversations, casting light on subjects that are often kept under wraps. Hopefully, this trend of openness continues.

More than this, the pandemic and campus closure have reminded us of just how equalizing a difficult experience can be. Every student has preconceived notions of every other student, whether those notions are based on their major, if they’re involved in Greek life, or where they’re from. But the differences between Eller and engineering seem insignificant when they’re balanced against a mutual lousy Zoom connection. Despite our differing backgrounds, these times have given us plenty to relate over, from quarantine meals to newfound hobbies.

Above all else, we have the same traditions and the same campus to miss. There’s a certain kind of comfort in collective grief, to know that people you’ve never met ache to sit under the same orange trees, to frequent the same cafes on University Boulevard, to hear the same cheers at a football game one more time. As gutting as it is to have lost these things, nobody is alone in his longing.

If nothing else, we’ve gained direct experience in the values that are so proudly emblazoned around campus. This semester renewed our compassion, bridging gaps despite differences and encouraging us to choose understanding over convenience. It was an exercise in adaptation, requiring us to adopt new ways of learning. And most importantly, this semester has been nothing if not an active display of determination, of pushing on in spite of it all.

The canceled internships and revoked job offers may never return. The Class of 2020 may never walk across the stage at Arizona Stadium as so many generations of Wildcats have previously done. But if there’s a silver lining to be found, it looks like this: renewed patience, appreciation and understanding. For our own sake, for the world that we return to when this virus subsides, it’s critical that we retain these lessons.

Fiona Harrigan is a contributor for Young Voices and a political writer based in Tucson. She is pursuing a B.A. in political science at the University of Arizona.

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