A Moment in Time: College Life in the Time of Pandemic ~ Hannah O’Connor

December 1, 2020

Editor’s Note: Hannah O’Connor, BHS Class of 2020, is a freshman at Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minnesota

Hannah O’Connor

One year ago, when I was a senior in high school and going through the college selection process, I could never have fathomed the end of my high school career being completely upended by a pandemic nor the start of my college experience looking so entirely different than those of the college students I’d spoken to in the process of making my decision on where to attend. Now, a year later, I am finally on campus at Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I couldn’t be happier to be here. I moved in a mere three weeks ago, flying out by myself and leaning on an incredibly patient and understanding new friend from my dorm who picked up an embarrassing number of Target and Amazon packages from the college’s mailing services for me ahead of my arrival. Macalester has split the Fall and Spring semesters into a quarter-like “module system.”  For the first module, I was at home, studying and learning remotely while nannying for three incredibly sweet boys in Bedford who I’d been with since the end of senior year. I can honestly say that the time I spent at home with both families was challenging, with respect to managing school, and also immensely rewarding.

Being at home gave me the opportunity to appreciate the in-person aspects of living on campus, even though both of my classes are currently online via Zoom. It was certainly more challenging to fully connect with classmates, peers, and friends remotely in terms of the time difference and sheer lack of proximity; yet, at the same time, it was just as intuitive for me as if I had started school in person. I value the chance to meet people but in this instance had to push myself outside of my comfort zone entirely to do so (it turns out that asking someone to “hang out” on Zoom or FaceTime is not nearly as natural at it might seem given its accessibility).  But doing so paid off, and solidified connections before I even arrived on campus. I didn’t have to worry so much about who I’d eat meals with once I arrived or who would show me the infamous laundry room on the basement level of my dorm: I had friends who welcomed me and included me from the beginning. I count myself lucky that my experience played out the way it did.

My transition to campus was made as smooth as possible because of my parents and friends and faculty from Macalester, for whom I’m incredibly grateful. That’s not to say, though, that it wasn’t without rather “unique” challenges, as it only rightfully would be, in the year 2020. I found myself on campus surrounded by social circles and pods long-established, with people having formed groups via in-class connections, common interests, or proximity, with those who had been nearest to them on those first warm summer days on the quad. I had mostly missed that initial bonding and selection period which would certainly have been anxiety-provoking on its own, never mind the additional layer of pressure to maintain distance given the ever-present COVID-19. Eventually, I found my bearings and emerged from the dream-like state of non-reality I had felt for at least the first week and a half. I met more people every day, suggesting lunch or dinner outdoors (the first week I came, Minnesota had unprecedented summer-like weather, which was a gift for safely meeting people outside) or a walk to get to know each other better. I began to note who I wanted to spend time with and vice versa.

Now in my fourth week at school I have found a pod with whom I’m comfortable. Each of the three other people in my pod make me laugh, smile, and find the ridiculousness and joy in a situation that is unimaginable. We have a mutual respect and care for one another that guides our choices in terms of where we go and who we interact with off-campus, and in that way, it’s very much like a family unit. I remember quite clearly our discussion of “what we were,” and coming back to my dorm later that night and laughing at how much it felt like a “what are we?” impasse in a relationship. But it’s true — that’s exactly what it was, just in a different way, and just as meaningful and challenging.

My classes and continued passion for what I’m studying — Political Science and Legal Studies being at the forefront of the topics my current classes fall under — have gotten me through my time here, as well as support from professors and friends. I’ve come to understand that too much time can be a dangerous thing. As humans, we thrive with structure and stability, and finding either, let alone both, of those things right now amidst the current state of our nation and world, is indeed a predicament. For that reason, I strive to keep myself busy and to seize opportunities as they come up even if many are virtual, unfortunately. Being as much of a part of this campus community in a very different way is all I can do right now, and even when some days it doesn’t feel enough, at other times, it is, and more. I have never experienced so many people commonly bonded by a singular experience or thing and it’s incomparably powerful.

Before I came to campus, I felt that the pandemic might have hindered my ability to fly the nest and start off on my own. Now, I can see in hindsight that it allowed me to get back time with my family that I had missed throughout the ups and downs and general chaos of high school. It allowed me to yearn for a better future and re-injected me with a passion for learning so that I can positively contribute to a world that needs all the positivity it can get right now. It made me more ready than before to leave home and trust myself to fly. It’s not nearly all sunshine and roses — there are still so many nuances and anxieties bred out of COVID that are commonplace in my everyday thoughts. I’m just grateful to be on campus and mindful every day of what a privilege it is to be here, especially now. I don’t ever want to lose sight of that.


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Diane Cadogan Hughes
December 2, 2020 10:03 am

Hannah, this is so well done. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s encouraging to learn that you and others are having a decent college experience!

Hannah O'Connor
December 11, 2020 12:32 pm

Thank you so much, Diane! That means a lot :)

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