On the morning of March 11, 2020, I knew what was in store for the rest of my semester. We all did. The Claremont Colleges would be the next in a long line of academic institutions to send students home in light of the rapidly spreading novel Coronavirus.
The atmosphere on campus was a unique mix of somber and jovial. While we felt for the seniors and mourned the latter half of the semester that could have been, we knew we’d be back soon.
Minutes before my American Political Thought course commenced that morning I joked to Professor Susan McWilliams Barndt, “How’s your doomsday treating you?” We laughed, painfully unaware of what the future had in store for us. That was the last class I would ever take in person at Pomona College.
The year that followed March 11, 2020 proved to be the most challenging in my life to date. It was emotionally revelatory, devastating at times and, above all, painfully lonely. I was forced to part with the safety and security of the intellectual haven that I only had just begun to feel comfortable in. I was prematurely thrust into the perils of post-grad life while concurrently trying to focus on my studies — a herculean feat in and of itself — while being inundated by the stress of social upheaval, a regime change and a pandemic.
Overwhelming doesn’t begin to capture it.
Through all of it, I remained enrolled at Pomona College, taking virtual classes and writing my thesis independently. Pomona remained my sole constant in a year that changed by the minute.
I initially decided to attend Pomona because it seemed like the sort of place where I could find myself, something I so desperately wanted as a sheltered seventeen-year-old. In many ways, it provided me so many opportunities to do just that.
As a first-year, I charted my path. I took classes that stretched my mind in ways it never had been stretched before. I forged new friendships and felt supported by the community around me.
As a sophomore, I continued to challenge myself academically. I found myself strengthening some friendships while others fizzled out. That year was as trying as it was critical for my success. While it hurt to grow apart from friends I loved dearly, I was proud of myself for having the maturity and foresight to walk away from relationships that were no longer serving either party to make space for both of us to be our best selves.
A semester away in fall 2019 only further solidified that Pomona was where I was meant to be.
With a strong sense of who my friends were and what I cared about on campus, I returned to Pomona in January 2020, poised to have my best semester yet. My schedule was jam-packed with extracurricular commitments, courses I loved and endless catch-ups with friends I hadn’t seen in nearly a year.
The first two months of that semester were some of the happiest of my life. I knew who I was and what my role was on Pomona’s campus. I felt unequivocally at home.
Then all of that was stripped from me in a matter of days.
My final memories of eating at Frary are flooded not with lively discourse or meandering brunch lines, but with pump sinks and pre-portioned paper plates. The college I loved so dearly was gone; I would never see it the same way again as a student.
The sheer weight of this loss didn’t fully sink in until our commencement was formally moved online. Deep down, I knew this would be the outcome, but a selfish, naïve part of me yearned for something different.
After all that we lost, I think we all deserve another outcome.
Left behind in Claremont are the apologies I never made, the apologies I am still owed. The lunch dates that never happened, Venmo requests that went unrequited; “I miss you” texts that were typed, deleted, re-typed and re-deleted.
It’s easy to harp on what could have been, what we would have done differently had we known our time would be cut so short. This past year has been an emotional tennis match, as I vacillate between immense feelings of despair for what is lost and sheer pride in our resilience.
I know I am not alone in these feelings. In writing this, I hope that other members of the class of 2021 feel validated in the collective grief we all share.
This was an unbelievably challenging year, one that none of us could have predicted, but we made it to the other side. It’s time to bask in our successes, for we have all just accomplished something tremendous under the most unideal circumstances.
Class of 2021, thank you for having me. I am so proud of all that we’ve done. Simply by surviving this year, we all can confidently say that few obstacles, if any, will prevent us from achieving our goals. It’s been a privilege to watch it all unfold and I cannot wait to see what we do next.
Gabe Abdellatif PO ’21 is from Portland, OR. “On” campus he is a part of Pomona College Mock Trial, the Office of Admissions and ASPC.