As seniors embark on their post-undergraduate journeys and COVID-19 reorders the global landscape, the Wheel’s Editorial Board wanted to close the academic year by providing our thoughts on how the Emory community can move forward as individuals and as a collective. We wish you all the best.
Boris Niyonzima (22C): The sole sentiment of the anti-lockdown protests that I understand is a desire to express dissatisfaction with our new reality. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I would walk outside to breathe. To calm anxieties and quiet racing thoughts. Now, I take my walks with a mask on, struggling to breathe as I do, and my immediate frustration is, “I can’t even practice mindfulness like I used to.” Even walking, something that was, once, a lifeline for me, is now cumbersome. That really sucks.
An oft-forgotten part of living collectively is making sacrifices for the greater good, such as wearing masks and paying taxes. Just as we are asked to sacrifice together, we should allow for the expression of collective emotions: fear just as much as joy.
Speaking of joy, I want to congratulate the Class of 2020. You have been robbed of celebrating like your predecessors; sitting in the Georgia heat and sweating through a gown has probably never sounded so appealing. But, ultimately, you have still crossed a major finish line and persevered through unprecedented turmoil during your final year of undergraduate studies. Watching your celebrations from afar has confirmed to me what I have always felt: the joy that I’ve found in college has largely derived from meeting all of you. Many of you I know, and I am lucky to call some of you my close friends. Now that you most likely have more idle time — take advantage of it. Revel in your brilliance, achievements, friendships and goals for the future.
Andrew Kliewer (20C): COVID-19 gave me a blank slate I had never asked for. Seemingly, overnight, my plans for the final semester of college and beyond vanished. Instead of spending what little time I had left at Emory with my friends, I’ve spent it staring at a computer screen. As someone who hates uncertainty, it’s been scary to confront the ambiguous void that our world has become.
Having only taken one class this semester, I’ve also had plenty of time to think. Although I still wish I was living and learning at Emory, I’ve come to realize that our slates are only as blank as we make them. Many of us have small things we can be thankful for, including unexpected time with our families, reconnecting with old friends over Zoom and getting to sleep in. We just have to do what we can to make every day count.
I can’t say I’m never sad or angry, especially given that graduation did not proceed as planned. Going into the summer, all of us are living radically altered lives, and it’s easy to get caught up in envisioning what could have been. However, we must remain in the present and focus on what we can control, rather than the myriad factors outside our grasp. Only then can we begin filling that blank slate and building purpose from uncertainty.
Sean Anderson (19Ox, 21B): COVID-19, through its accompanying loss and uncertainty, has become our generation’s first opportunity to take a step back and collectively reevaluate our priorities. We don’t really know the pre-pandemic professional world; most of us have not yet traveled for business or worked in a white-collar office in a world favorable to in-person work. Moreover, many of us have never had to weigh pursuing a career against starting a family. We will only know a post-pandemic world in which working from home has been normalized and non-essential travel is minimal. But, even as we have lost our previous normal, we, as a generation, must claim a new one. When the job market sheds over 11% of America’s jobs in two months, we should not base our self-worth on fleeting metrics, such as wealth or job titles, when they can instantly evaporate for reasons beyond our control. Likewise, the pandemic has drastically altered how we connect with our friends and families. While we, as individuals, can’t change the economy, we can still change how often we visit family for dinner, embrace friends or go to restaurants with our significant others. Right now, we have neither career nor personal, physical relations, but when this is all over, we can create a new normal that won’t take intimacy and relationships for granted.
Jake Busch (22C): The last few months have been difficult and unpredictable for us all — students, faculty, staff, parents, administrators and alumni — but our invisible enemy should inspire us to act in accordance with our collective self-interest. Even as our first summer during the pandemic begins, we must keep in mind that the United States’ pre-pandemic problems have not disappeared; in fact, the current crisis has only exacerbated them. Lack of access to affordable healthcare, rampant racial inequality, crippling political polarization and the caging of thousands of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are more severe now than ever before. As this year’s commencement speaker, attorney Bryan Stevenson, wrote in his book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” “The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned. We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.” In the age of COVID-19, these words ring even louder than before. More than 94,000 people have already died from the disease in the U.S., and thousands more are expected to perish before this is over. It’s time to get serious about the problems plaguing our society – problems made more immediate and dire by this crisis. We will never be the same after the pandemic, but we can be better. You can begin by volunteering to help others in this trying moment, whether by virtually assisting small companies in their operations or registering voters from a safe distance. Even a social media post in support of health care workers can go a long way. Most, if not all, of our summer plans have been impacted by COVID-19, but we can still be the change makers our world needs even in this uncertain moment, and even from a distance.
Meredith McKelvey (19Ox, 21C): The COVID-19 pandemic has obliterated many of the opportunities and networks that make us feel like connected, productive members of society. It is natural to feel frustrated with canceled internships, separated families, heightened injustices and tragedies. Social distancing is the best measure we have to minimize the spread of COVID-19, but it severs our ability to aid the most vulnerable and prevents us from using traditional methods to protest atrocities, like the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Can we affect positive change if our efforts to do so put other people’s lives in danger? We might be isolated, but we are not helpless. Small acts of kindness have profound reverberations, especially during this period of global upheaval, when our social framework lies in tatters. Since the beginning of stay-at-home orders, we’ve been bombarded with messages that encourage radical self-improvement or self-care as a remedy for the negative consequences of the pandemic. Whether you choose self-improvement or self-care, remember to be kind to others. Donate a blanket or a meal to the homeless person you avoided last week. Adopt a shelter animal. Respond to difficult relatives with empathy. Reach beyond your self-interest and push yourself to be a more considerate person during your quarantine.
Brammhi Balarajan (23C): COVID-19 has drastically uprooted all of our lives, leaving us with different priorities and responsibilities. Many of us are facing summers completely at odds with our original expectations. If your previous hopes for the summer now seem impossible, that’s okay. During this crisis, we should not define our success materially; we are in the midst of a pandemic and must accordingly treat ourselves with kindness and patience. If your summer becomes a time of self-reflection, self-care and recovery, you will still have had a successful summer. Our lives may seem uncontrollable at the moment, but we can find liberation in the smallest of blessings and acts. We must not judge ourselves too harshly during this trying time. Throughout the rest of this summer, I urge you to focus on healing the best way you can and know that, though all of us are facing unprecedented challenges, we will slowly, but surely, recover.
Ben Thomas (23C): None of us asked for this. None of us deserve this. The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-generation, if not once-in-a-lifetime, crisis. In a few decades, the books will be published and the movies will be released. Before long, this will be over and we will realize that we’ve lived through a moment of untold historical significance.
For now, though, it’s just awful.
If you’re anything like me, the pandemic has been particularly disruptive in that it’s completely derailed your goals for the spring and summer. My internship and other summer plans fell through weeks ago, and I’ve expended an unreasonable amount of energy worrying about how I’ll spend the next three months of my life. I miss the people and the possibilities that I left behind at Emory — that’s why this is awful for me.
Although I’ve ruminated on what the pandemic will mean for my summer, I’ve begun to realize that it may not be the catastrophe that my worry-prone mind had feared. This summer will not be a blessing in disguise for me or anyone else, and I won’t bother advising you to look on the bright side, but please, do try to make the most of it. If you, like me, usually thrive on structure, experiment with your newfound unstructured time. Read the books, cook the foods and explore the places for which you wouldn’t otherwise have had time. Figure out what you’d like to major in. Cold email 40 people in your field of interest. Use this time to think, explore and grow.
The foreseeable future will be unpleasant. But if we pick ourselves up and refuse to let COVID-19 relegate us to stagnation, we might just leave this pandemic as better people than when we entered it.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board.
The Editorial Board is composed of Sean Anderson, Brammhi Balarajan, Zach Ball, Jake Busch, Andrew Kliewer, Meredith McKelvey, Boris Niyonzima and Ben Thomas.