Opinions, Column

Managing Optimism and Expectations

Like all college students looking to become the best version of themselves, I practice the sacred ritual of checking the news every morning before getting out of bed. It’s a calming ritual, and one I’ve perfected by this point in the year. I log onto my email, read the New York Times Morning Briefing, and eventually find myself lured into Apple News headlines. Appearing among much flashier Snapchat and Instagram notifications, most of the headlines don’t even hold my attention, let alone prompt me to read the article. But Friday, Feb. 12 was different. There it was. Smack in the middle of my screen: “Fauci: April should be ‘open season’ for vaccinations.” At that exact moment, I went from half-asleep to wide awake, riding an endorphin rush that can only be produced by one thing: the end of the pandemic. 

Ah yes, the end of the pandemic. Part of me is afraid to even write that phrase when the past year has been hallmarked by phony deadlines citing the end to the COVID-19 crisis as “soon” or “already here.” At this point, I’m partially convinced that the pandemic can smell optimism like comic book characters can smell fear. But something about the promise of an accessible vaccine just feels different. It feels real. Maybe the pandemic really is almost over.

But, with my cautiously optimistic sense of hope comes a different yet equally overwhelming feeling: anxiety. What am I really looking forward to here? Is the traditional college experience gone forever? Will things ever go back to “normal”? 

While I was applying to college, a global pandemic was a plot element in my favorite sci-fi movie, masks were worn by doctors performing surgery, and cotton swabs belonged nowhere but my ear. Now, just one year later, a pandemic is my reality, a mask is what I wear to the bathroom, and a cotton swab is what gets shoved up my nose each week for testing. Although over time this reality has become “normal,” I can’t help but wonder what I am missing.

The pandemic has given me a lot of things: a talent for making whipped coffee, a flair for matching my outfits to my masks, and a new understanding of the word “normal.” Arriving on campus in August as an overwhelmed and overstimulated freshman, I lacked the time and mental capacity to truly process the dramatic changes to student life that the pandemic required. A stranger to Boston College B.C. (get it? “Before COVID-19”), it never truly dawned on me that my experiences as a freshman weren’t exactly traditional. Sure, I would take the T into the city, maybe even go out to eat, but I was largely with the same group every weekend. Better yet, we would immediately split up upon arriving back at BC, afraid to be caught together on campus and risk losing housing. There was no casually meeting people in class or at club meetings, and part of me was okay with this “normal.” At least until I checked Snapchat.

  And then, I was no longer “normal.” The University of Tampa, Clemson, Elon, and the University of Miami were just some of the places where, from behind a phone screen, it appeared as though COVID-19 didn’t exist. Some of the footage made me uncomfortable. Aren’t they going to get sick? Won’t they lose housing? But no. Most of my friends at these schools made it through the entire fall semester without contracting COVID-19 or receiving housing infractions. I was jealous that their “normal” appeared to be more complete than mine. 

So with vaccinations on the horizon, will we get back to that? The quintessential college experience embellished with social gatherings and sporting events that has been put on hold finally seems like it could be possible again. But, just because Anthony Fauci says it’s “open season” for vaccinations, doesn’t mean college campuses will automatically “open” completely. There is a serious possibility that things might not go back to how they once were, leaving the memory of COVID-19 to linger long after the virus is gone. Could this lead to hordes of students transferring to colleges where the grass is seemingly greener, and the COVID-19 restrictions are lighter? For the BC Classes of 2024 and 2025, these questions are haunting. Is the school they applied to ever going to be that school again?

The optimistic, faith-in-humanity side of me wants things to be “open” again so bad. Sometimes, I even catch myself fantasizing about what a few COVID-19-free weeks at the end of this semester may look like if BC manages to get us all vaccinated. The realist in me gawks at this fantasy, then promptly goes into managing expectations overdrive, preparing me to forget about life before the virus. This is challenging because we won’t know what life after COVID-19 will be like until it happens. But until then, I’ll be patiently awaiting my vaccine, just as Fauci promised, hoping that I never have to stick a Q-tip up my nose again.

Featured Graphic by Meegan Minahan/ Heights Editor

March 21, 2021