Over the past month, it seems like the entire world has been turned upside down. I was looking back at some photos and found me and a friend having breakfast together. We had talked about how her research was going to have to dramatically change style if the coronavirus closed the university facilities. I had expressed hopes that if we could make it through the next two weeks, my lectures would all finish anyway. Two days later, and the university issued emails to inform us that all lectures were cancelled or online, and the buildings would be shut by the end of the week.
I think the COVID-19 outbreak has taken something away from all of us. Whether that’s plans with friends and family, school, work or even the time to rest before returning to the frontlines. There is a general sense of grieving – I’ve seen articles about how we have lost what was for many of us a fairly comfortable way of life and routine (look here!). As a final year university student, there’s almost a mourning for the endings we hoped for but haven’t had.
Coming into April, I was expecting to have to do a lot of hard work – the final essays and projects just as I had in year 11 and in sixth form. But with that, there were various milestones that I expected to celebrate and use to motivate me onwards as I had before. I wanted to walk out of my last lecture, somewhat ‘The Breakfast Club’ style. Instead I found out via email that I no longer had any lectures and had already left my last lecture without knowing and without punching the air to the sound of ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’. I expected that when I handed in my final essay, I could take the classic cringey ‘I-finished-uni’ photo with the university sign. However, I’m going to be handing that essay in from home, so no university sign. There will be no last meals, no summer ball, no final pub trip or beach trip or 24-hour library trip. As final years, we seem to have lost all our endings, having to replace them with zoom calls and Netflix parties. Having had these endings at GCSE and A Level, it’s not quite the same.
The biggest challenge for me has been maintaining motivation through these last few assignments. Over the past month I have been bombarded with emails about how the university plan to respond to the coronavirus. These have cancelled my friend’s final performances, redesigned exams, extended deadlines and put no-detriment policies in place. When we thought we would be preparing for stressful weeks of reading and working long hours in the library, suddenly all the pressure was off. It’s almost like suddenly the purpose that we had been working towards for three years was taken away. I no longer had to work so hard on my degree. I anticipated this lack of purpose may come in when I had finished my degree, but I wasn’t ready for it while I still have essays to write.
For a while, I was stuck very much in a mentality of all that I had lost and feeling very lost myself. Panic from the hundreds of emails was starting to set in and I really didn’t want to say goodbye to my university experience, especially not like this. I’m not good at endings at the best of times and this was not it. But just before I came home, I met with some friends from church. As a Christian, I turn to prayer in good and bad times, this reminded me, we still have hope, we still have peace. When we can’t do it alone, we need one another, not panic but look for hope in unlikely places.
I was reminded about the story of Exodus and how God leads the Israelites out of Egypt and provides for them in the desert. God has been through plagues and wars before and I believe he is in control.
Find a new purpose to motivate you. I completely get that motivation is hard, but find something to get out of bed for. I’m trying to learn guitar, challenging myself to learn ‘Wonderwall’ (a classic choice). Or maybe try something else – find a puzzle, get a plant to care for, see if you can touch your toes. If you do have deadlines to meet, try just doing one paragraph and reward yourself. Or maybe more? Go out and really enjoy the Boris-approved walk/run/cycle. Notice the heat of the sun, the insects, the rain, the clouds in the sky. It’s okay to not feel motivated. It’s a strange time. But don’t let that allow you to slump away and feel alone. Call your friends and encourage one another -we need each other.
We can have our own endings too. Still celebrate finishing those deadlines, have virtual last meals, take the last day of school photo, and don’t let this be the ending if you don’t want it to. I will see my friends again and we will be able to go to the beach or the pub or just hang around together again. We will return and check off our bucket lists of things to do at uni. Maybe it will be a bit late, but that’s okay.
My friend made a playlist of music for this season of life and as I left university, belongings all packed up in the back of the car, I was listening to ‘The Blessing’ by Kari Jobe. I would like to leave this song for you, to sing over yourselves and one another as you wash your hands, stay at home and adjust to this new stage of life.
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