Recently, I have been reminded often about the gradual return to normalcy with the increased rollout of vaccines and decreasing COVID-19 case counts in Los Angeles County and California. For course registration, the locations of classes no longer show “online” but room numbers of specific buildings, like Seaver North. Emails from the administration of the 5Cs now sound optimistic about a return to campus in the fall.
However, as we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we may lose sight of what we are moving past — a truly unprecedented time of virtual learning and social distancing. We don’t have to treat these past semesters of virtual learning as simply a misfortune and nothing else. Instead, we can reflect on the last few semesters and notice moments of personal and academic growth that we can carry with us into a post-pandemic world.
Everyone’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic have been different, as many have suffered from losing loved ones, not having a stable living situation and other challenges caused by lockdowns and the pandemic. It may not be enjoyable to look back on the pandemic or possible to do so in a wholly positive way, and I am not asking you to dwell on any negatives — quite the opposite.
If you find yourself capable of searching for optimism irrespective of the past 13 months, doing so can be beneficial both to personal and societal growth. Part of healing from the pernicious impacts of the pandemic is transformation, which we can achieve by acknowledging and reflecting on our experiences during these unique times.
For example, learning remotely forced us to be more active and intentional in our social interactions with our peers. Having lectures, mentor sessions and study groups over Zoom is incredibly limiting, and, on top of most people’s living in vastly different places from each other, the spontaneous interactions that were usually present on campus were taken from us.
Instead of having lunches at the dining halls together, perhaps we’ve had to find some time in between classes to have a quick chat over a call. Instead of seeing your friends in the hallways of your dorm, maybe you now meet over Zoom every weekend to study. Instead of having a traditional sponsor group experience, I made friends through mentor sessions and working on labs together.
Regardless of how one had to cope with the inconveniences of online learning, the common experience was being more active to create opportunities to socialize with each other to replace the loss of interactions that were an inherent part of being on campus.
And the important part is that we were able to create those opportunities. Even if we still yearn for the day we can see our friends in non-pixelated form, we’ve recognized the value of just being able to see and talk to someone whenever we want and attempted to compensate for the loss of that ability.
When we do eventually step foot in Claremont as a student body again, we shouldn’t leave this experience in the past. Instead, we can continue to be proactive in how we connect with others because we now know that interactions as simple as walking to class together may not be guaranteed.
Additionally, the pandemic has revealed the inequalities that still pervade society, as it disproportionately impacts people of less fortunate socioeconomic status and those of marginalized racial and ethnic minority groups.
As a result, initiatives such as mutual aid — “aid offered in a spirit of solidarity and reciprocity,” often in struggling communities — gained traction as ways to help those in need during these trying times. 5C students are at the center of many of these efforts as well.
The emergence of these initiatives can be carried onward into a post-pandemic world as well. The institutionalized inequalities in the United States were only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is important that we continue to be conscious of the ways we are able to help those in need.
Becoming more proactive when socializing with others and when developing societal consciousness are just two examples of how the unique circumstances of the pandemic allowed us to grow as individuals.
You might have had different experiences that didn’t lend themselves to these particular instances, but if you look back at the person you were before the pandemic, you might be surprised by how you’ve changed, maybe even for the better.
After all, the pandemic had a unique power. It tore down the structures of our lives, removing things that we had taken for granted, such as being able to see each other in person. However, in its place, I believe it left a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allowed us to grow as individuals.
Phillip Kong PO ’24 is from Toronto, Canada. He looks forward to stepping foot on Marston Quad one day.