We can all agree that the class of 2020 has been through a lot in our time at Yale. Trump was elected in the fall of our first year (God only knows what will happen in the election bookending our senior year), the admissions scandal rocked the University in the spring of our junior year, and now COVID-19 is disrupting the entire world. As if all of this didn’t hurt enough, Yale practically threw us out of the beautiful dorms we have learned to call home over the past four years. I know this is all for the protection of the country’s public health, and ultimately I very much agree with this decision, but it is still a loss nonetheless.

While trying to keep myself busy, and instead of doing any of the work my professors still expect me to do, I started putting together a scrapbook of senior year. I took all the pictures, wristbands and ticket stubs off my walls and sifted through them on the floor of my quarantine room. I came across a picture of me from my FOOT trip, which feels like forever ago. I’m sitting on a mountain smiling back at the camera as my body faces the gorgeous New England forest ahead of me. This moment, captured by a disposable camera and thus all the more valuable, made me stop to think about how things have changed for me since then.

Three and a half years ago, I had not yet gained (and then lost!) the “Freshman Fifteen.” I was not fully aware or able to articulate my queer identity (let alone celebrate it). More pressingly, in that moment, I was completely at a loss for who my closest friends would be during college. When I looked at that picture of myself, I felt an overwhelming sense of warmth and pride. It seemed clear that that person bravely sat on the edge of a lot of growth and discovery.

At that moment, I was standing on a diving board, holding my breath before the chaos and excitement of the years to follow. That 19-year-old version of myself in no way anticipated that she would make some of the best friends she could ever imagine, come out to those friends and her family, live and study in Cape Town for a semester and dance at Toad’s every single Wednesday of her senior year.

I am incredibly grateful for the space I’ve been given at Yale to do this, and it saddens me to see any of that taken away. But there has to be a lesson in here somewhere. For the class of 2020 in particular, we have all learned the painful and valuable truth that the unexpected is the norm. If we don’t want to live with regret, we must do the things we want to today, tomorrow, as soon as possible. 

I have received kind notes from younger students commiserating in my bad luck at losing senior spring, and while I appreciate their thoughts, I know Yale will fly by for them, too. Whether or not you spend the warm and flowery days of your senior year on campus, your time at Yale will be too short. You will forget to say goodbye to some people or you’ll do another hour of reading instead of spending it with friends. These are indeed the shortest years of life.

My grandpa used to say that he was thankful to have been a part of the generation that lived through the Great Depression and fought in World War II. From these historical periods, he learned the value of a dollar and the discipline to go for a jog every morning before exercise was in fashion. He had to leave college a year early in order to fight in the South Pacific, and I’m sure he felt tremendous loss without a whole year of youth and academic growth. Let the record show, I do not mean to equate my current living conditions to my grandfather’s during the 1930s or at Iwo Jima. But in the same way that he turned the time that he lost into a chance to learn and achieve, I hope to do the same.

These past few years may not have always been filled with free time and open bars, but they built us into the appreciative, compassionate seniors we are today. In each subsequent stage of life, we will have infinite opportunities to reinvent ourselves. Some of us will run for office, some will run their own companies and some more will run road races with their children in strollers (looking at you, Triathlon Team). Although I cannot be in the same room with any of you right now, I’m cheering for you as you keep running.

I recently had what will undoubtedly be one of many more phone calls with my sophomore year roommate. During it, she said she “never wanted to peak in college.” Now, I extend this wish to our entire class. Yale, while memorable and formative, will not be our peak.

CHARLOTTE VAN VOORHIS is a senior in Branford College. Contact her at charlotte.vanvoorhis@yale.edu .