Lucie Boulet-Gercourt SC ’21 never considered taking a semester off and postponing her graduation date. But when the choice swirled down to online learning or time off during the fall, she felt there was a clear choice.
“College is about so much more than the classes … I guess a lot has changed,” she said. “It has been strange to adjust to that reality. I always thought this would be my last summer at home; now I’m not so sure. I always expected to live in New York post-grad; now I can’t say for sure if I will.”
This semester, a fair number of 5C students will be absent from Zoom classes, leaving the Claremont community leaner. Some will trade Zoom headaches for internships, jobs, personal projects or honestly, just another yogurt from the fridge.
Many have made the decision based on instinct without set plans, a leap of faith. With the economy in open freefall and each day a new flavor of flux, every surface is unstable. Strategizing is a necessary, though Herculean, task.
“I don’t even know what I’m doing,” Nathalie Marx SC ’21 said from her apartment in Eugene, Oregon. “I don’t even know if I’m making the best choice. I don’t know if I’m making the right choice socially, academically, financially, for my future. I genuinely have no idea. This feels right, and best for me, but I feel like it changes so much.”
Lily Feldman PO ’21 also faces the same uncertainty, having made the choice to not enroll this semester by trusting her gut intuition. “I was just thinking about it, and I was like, this just kind of makes sense, like this feels right,” she said.
For seniors, the suspension of on-campus residential life is particularly crushing. The milestones that marked the final year of college, like first-choice housing assignments, leadership positions in 5C clubs and organizations and closer working relationships with professors, have been scrapped, or, at the least, severely altered.
This year, there will likely be no triumphant graduation ceremonies, no boozy 100-days celebrations, no jittery thesis exhibitions, assuming the spring semester will also be virtual. The online versions of these treasured traditions are wholly transformed, evoking weaker emotions and at variance with their original models. It is widely accepted that an in-person graduation is joyous, albeit boring, while a Zoom graduation seems silly, coated in a vapor of cumbersome formality.
The seniors I interviewed each expressed delicate hope that campus life would resume its usual tilt next fall, at the latest. However, the heartache associated with the loss of campus life is less connected to the absence of milestones and traditions, and more likely surrounds a deficit of kinship.
“College is so much about connections with people beyond your close group of friends,” Boulet-Gercourt said. “You know, people you see but you don’t really know, and maybe you’ll get lunch with them … We’ve been forced to tighten our close group of people around us.”
It’s the small things — taken-for-granted things — for which the emptiness is felt most acutely. “I love being able to go to the library,” Marx said. “This is probably super unrealistic, but I’m hoping that by the fall of 2021, I don’t know, something will happen.”
For some, the decision to take time off is rooted in the inferiority of online learning, the communal energy that is lost through the screen, the heightened awkwardness of attending office hours against a pixelated, false background of the Scripps College rose garden or a Pomona College lawn or a stock photo of a tropical beach.
“I think college is just so special, and whatever virtual experience of it is just not the same,” Feldman said. “I don’t know what I would do if we were online next year again … I feel like two years is a lot to take off, but I also am like, then why did I take a year off?”
Feldman relayed the temper of decision-making in a pandemic and financial crisis: one plan is necessary to build another plan on top, but any plan can crinkle at any time. “I don’t think it should just be like, well, ‘I’m not really excited about online classes,’ and then, you’re just going to be laying around,” she said. “I think having a plan is important, and I’m totally saying this as if I have one, which I don’t.”
“Some view this gap semester, whether spent following a plan that meets more established standards of productivity or simply spent on the couch cradling a box of Cheez-Its, as a welcome respite — a shelter amidst the storm to wait out the winds until it’s safe to return to campus and restore original blueprints for the future. ” – Lillian Perlmutter SC ’21
For certain seniors who spent three years building a comfortable, cherished routine on campus and are clinging to the idea of a last hurrah, the possible, perhaps probable, reality of never returning to Claremont as a student, of spending the final semesters living within a retina display, of being flung at full speed into an apocalyptic job market, is too terrifying a prospect to accept. “I think I’m still too hopeful to imagine that possibility,” Boulet-Gercourt said.
Some view this gap semester, whether spent following a plan that meets more established standards of productivity or simply spent on the couch cradling a box of Cheez-Its, as a welcome respite — a shelter amidst the storm to wait out the winds until it’s safe to return to campus and restore original blueprints for the future. These students are gambling with fate, their bets constructed atop liquid probabilities.
“I think it will be really nice to have a time to pause,” Marx said.
Lillian Perlmutter SC ’21 is a politics and foreign languages dual major. She is not productive, has few set plans and considers herself a Cheez-Its enthusiast.