This past weekend, I watched the doors of the College Street gates to Silliman close for the last time. I pressed the button and walked out of the gates, then turned around to watch them close with a clang of uncomfortably certain finality.
This wasn’t the goodbye I was expecting. For one, it was March — a sunny day, but brisk. I wore a Yale Movement hoodie under a green North Face, but I was still freezing by early dawn. I sat on the swing in front of Entryway L, as friends remaining in the courtyard gathered around and laughed and cried. I tried to take it all in: the sunshine peering through Silliman’s angular roofs and windows, the diagonal pattern of stone walkways, the entryways that I passed by every night.
As a senior, I am full of complicated emotions as my early exit from residential instruction was wrought by COVID-19. I can’t help but think back to the late Marina Keegan ’12’s op-ed, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” a beautiful rendering of the bittersweet emotions associated with graduating. As seniors in the Class of 2020, I sense that we are not experiencing the same transition that Keegan described. We are experiencing, instead, the opposite of togetherness.
Beware, reader: this is not a hopeful, rejoicing note about how we can find togetherness over Zoom, or how we can build community from the safety of our homes during a global pandemic. The reality is that not everyone’s home is safe. Not every student has the adequate internet access to read this article, or the financial stability to pay for their next meal, or the ability to return home as their country is ravaged by COVID-19, or even a family to take them in and provide for them. In this America (and larger world), home is a discontinuous, fraught and non-universal concept.
It’s not like we did this to ourselves — the outbreak of global pandemic was not in the control of the Class of 2020, and this lack of control makes it all the more frustrating. Ultimately, this crisis affects incarcerated folks, immunocompromised people and low-income communities disproportionately more than it affects the average Yale senior. With our panic should come acknowledgement of privilege, and a sense of duty to help communities in danger.
Still, we are faced with some difficult emotions. It’s hard to not only say our goodbyes to the spaces and people we loved on campus, but also to embrace the uncertainty that leaving campus brings. As Keegan said, “Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves.” On-campus groups, cultural centers, those who can identify with our talent and our pain, became part of the paths we walked. Each community had its distinct traditions — initiations, retreats, concerts, meetings and, ultimately, send-offs.
We often found not only community, but also solidarity in each of our orbits, during each of our trips around the sun. We learned how our bodies, minds and personalities are political, how we are part of systems we want to change or even throw out entirely, but aren’t sure how exactly to do that. We sat on these rotations, these revolutions, thinking about how best to make the world — or just someone’s day — a bit better.
Instead of slowly and steadily drifting from our stars, like senior classes past, we fell right out of orbit. We were hoping to have more figured out by May. Instead, we were ejected from a home too soon, without goodbyes or send-offs or lunches with professors or Flings or Last Chances.
As Keegan said, “Of course, there are things we wished we did.” 2020 seniors are cursed not only with those regrets, but also things we wish we had the chance to do. Or even things we wish we had the chance to mess up. Or caps and gowns we wish we could wear. Or hugs we wish we could have given to friends we saw on Friday, March 6th, 2020, not knowing it was our last day together.
Yale is not perfect. Its roots lie in settler colonialism, slavery and racial and gender inequity. But it was a home where many of us built ourselves from terrified teenagers into scared adults. It allowed us to see a future for ourselves. It’s hard to imagine that future through a webcam (if you’re fortunate enough to have one), sitting at home in a desk chair you likely outgrew at 17 (if you’re fortunate enough to have one).
Now that the shiny black gates have closed so abruptly, I don’t know how we can overcome the opposite of togetherness. But if there’s anything I want to tell my peers in the Class of 2020, it’s to keep imagining those futures, and to act on them. Imagine a future where the concept of home is continuous and universal, where we can protect those most vulnerable in crises like this one, and use everything in the toolkit we’ve built in 3.75 years to create a new reality. Let’s turn our pain into bountiful empathy and speak truth to power through the new paths we walk and build, the new circles and orbits we draw.
We may not be together, 2020, but we are more than just our pixelated renderings. Let’s make sure the world knows that.
KUSHAL DEV is a senior in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .