As the wind continues to blow a brisk breeze on campus, the sun is setting on what has been a memorable and emotional fall semester at Bates. As everyone has had to grapple with a new module system, COVID-19, and the 2020 election all in the span of a couple of months, it is important to take some time and reflect. With Thanksgiving and the holiday season upon us, I wanted to use this space to reflect on what has been an unprecedented yet important year.
In more ways than one, I have been reminded of how traumatic 2020 has been for so many people. When it comes to mental health, this year has been particularly difficult for those who have suffered from anxiety and depression. When COVID-19 first hit the United States, there was an increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression among adults with 41% who claim to have suffered from a mental health condition by the end of June. Studies have also shown that young adults between the ages of 18-29 have had challenges with mental health related to the pandemic. Specifically, according to the Rand Corporation, a recent national survey showed that 85% of college students who were enrolled at two-year and four-year institutions were suffering from some kind of anxiety or stress due to COVID-19. For the past several weeks, I’m sure many students have been dealing with insurmountable work, scrambling to clean up their dorm room, and wondering if this might be their last time on campus.
Coming home this year is going to be very different than in past years. Yes, going to see my parents will be lovely. Yes, being in the comfort of my home might ease my mind. However, this year will be one I cannot forget. Although this year seemed very promising to start, now it seems that we are all desperate for everything to be over. Both on the Bates campus and around the country, we have all collectively suffered from political tension and polarization, apathy, and overall lack of awareness of social issues that are impacting people’s lives. Yet, as the sun rises and sets each day, there is more opportunity to reflect and to find balance and truth.
At such a young age, dealing with social and global problems while also pursuing a college degree is certainly overwhelming. There have been many challenges, such as trying to stay positive, and it can feel almost impossible to breathe sometimes. It has been especially hard to find distraction and to try not to think about everything going wrong around me or focus on the negative. It feels as if every time I try to think or act positive, something bad happens. Especially when either you lose someone who you loved or watch someone close to you go through a certain trauma, it’s hard to be happy.
If this year has taught us anything it’s that tragedy has been an unfortunate commonality. The loss of a loved one, especially from COVID-19 has continued to damage families and relationships around the world. The sad fact is, there are many people unaware of these heartbreaking and emotional stories. The worst thing about going through a tragedy is when people don’t believe your story.
Over this past week, I have been reminded of the power of hope and beauty. With everything that has happened this semester, we were still able to have the annual Harvest Dinner together at Bates. The turkey, the gravy, and the warm frivolity. For the first time in a while, while I was waiting in line at Commons, I felt the buzz and energy from other students waiting in line, excited to take part in a tradition that has spanned for decades. In addition, finally seeing the banner for the Class of 2024 was a wonderful surprise. Having a class banner at Bates, another tradition at this institution, is one of the many ways our school welcomes all of the respective class years. This semester, more than ever, felt as though there was more significance to all of the conversations, not-so-distanced hugs, and all of the tearful goodbyes. Will this be the end? Surely it must not.
As Benjamin Mays once said, “The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.” In a year where we have seen the death of an endless string of icon figures such as John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2020 has been undoubtedly the worst year in recent memory. I wish it could wash all away. I wish somehow, I could know with absolute certainty that things were going to get better, but none of us know that. Unfortunately, I am not John Oliver and cannot sarcastically blow up a big sign that says “2020,” even though that looks fun. Please, let’s try to show empathy and compassion for one another. This holiday season, let us really be grateful. Let us be grateful for our families, friends, and other loved ones because we never know when another tragedy or another loss may take place.