My COVID story: An unprecedented conclusion

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Image courtesy of Hannah Keeney

Hannah Keeney, senior psychological science major and president of the student body, discusses the loss felt by seniors as classes are moved online in their final semester as William Jewell College students.  

A Jewell staff member that I’ve spoken to recently implied that the emotional side of the impact that the student body is facing as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak warrants the grieving process. The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. For whatever reason, this always angered me in previous encounters with the grieving process. I despised having my feelings reduced to what seemed like menial stages. In my experience you feel all of them at once – except for the last one of course. 

Most of us are familiar with this process – some more intimately than others. Because of my personal encounters with grief, I’ve questioned whether this circumstance was even worth grieving. It seems like everyone has a sadder story right now; aren’t I one of the lucky ones? How childish, I’ve thought to myself, to grieve for something that’s not even tangible. I’ve been hard on myself. I’ve even been critical of other articles and social media posts I’ve seen written. 

The reality of it, though, is that the impacts of this pandemic do warrant a grieving process, and all responses, from doom-and-gloom to the optimist, are valid. Grief, to me, is a series of contradictions: highs and lows, laughing out of fear, crying hysterically, seeing this time as an opportunity for growth, realizing the abundance of loss, the list goes on. There is no wrong way to grieve, and allowing yourself to do so typically leads to some sort of emotional freedom.

However, the class of 2020 is in a particularly odd predicament.

What a peculiar time of life we’re in. We’re grieving our premature end to our Jewell journey yet ready to launch into the rest of our lives. After all, it feels as though we’re done with Jewell. We’re ready to move into the beginning of our careers, graduate school, medical school, law school, physical therapy school or what else our next steps may entail. 

By all accounts this would be an opportune time to be looking at apartments, perfecting our interview skills or getting a head start to our further education. However, our nation – and the world – is put on hold. Those looking at potential first real jobs have the phrase “hiring freeze” laced in their minds as newfound insecurity – as if finding that initial job wasn’t enough pressure. 

We’re still expected to complete our classes and are only hoping that professors show us grace during this trying time. We’re doing all the work without the usual stress-relievers. Those de-stressors are what kept many of us invested in Jewell. They gave us energy and challenged us to have more than a transactional relationship with our education. We didn’t get to say goodbye to those, and now we’re still just going through the motions to get our work done. 

As students of a school that lives and dies by the value of authentic engagement, this feels incommensurate. It’s difficult to even begin to quantify all that we’ve lost. No senior days, no last recitals, no known last meetings in our Greek organizations, no senior lunches with our professors, or proper farewell or truly just soaking in the little things and being able to appreciate them one last time. From sitting outside on a sunny day at Jewell to the final traditions, we’ve been deprived of the simple luxury of closure.

Choosing to acknowledge these issues and address them does not make you weak, it does not make you selfish, and it’s not taking away from other struggles felt by those with sad stories. 

There’s no denying the additional stressors placed on us, in addition to the already pertinent struggles we’ve faced this year. Embracing the struggle, acknowledging it and not trying to avoid the undeniable inconvenience allows you to move forward. This season of life – this strange purgatory – is an indefinite amount of time. This is a large component of the given challenge. 

However, moving forward does not always mean moving onto your next chapter. For the first time in, well, probably four years, we have no expectations. Everything is on hold. We’re free to do what we want. Someone once told me that you can really tell what someone’s made of when they’re under an extreme amount of pressure. Like a water bottle, they said, if it wasn’t a clear bottle, and you couldn’t see what was inside, you’d have to squeeze it to make the contents come out. Once you do, it’s evident what’s inside. 

For the first time in a long time, friends, we have no pressure. The world has halted. We need not advance. We truly can heal ourselves, so when the world starts again, and squeezes us once more, we speak with words of wisdom and acts of kindness.

Although this is not an ideal closing to my favorite chapter of life, I am grateful for what Jewell has brought me. I appreciate everything each of you, class of 2020, has given me. To be amidst such genuine kindness and closeness in one place is something I intend to never take for granted again. My hope for my class is that we take advantage of time. Time to grieve, time to reflect on our last few years, time to thank those who have impacted our lives, time to pray, time to establish staying in touch, time to strengthen relationships and time to heal. 

This is my hope because one day, sooner rather than later, the world will be thrust out of a halt. Once it is, there will be new pressures, and the world will test us once more. We are strong, and what is inside of us is far stronger than the adversity facing us now. For these moments, however, take time. Rest, play and give yourself some grace. We’ve earned it.

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