In the days after Chicago announced a shelter-in-place order, I found new pleasure in long, late-afternoon walks to the grocery store. A trip to the nearest Aldi promised three miles worth of exercise and ridiculously cheap cartons of free-range eggs. So on the day Salovey confirmed we’d be online the rest of the semester — away from lounging with friends on spring-blanketed Old Campus and lamp-lit library nights only half-studying — I went grocery shopping. I’d filled two brown paper bags when I left the store, and it began to rain.
As my bags deteriorated, soft and damp in my arms, I ran to catch the subway. At my stop, I tumbled my soggy mess of groceries onto the nearest bench, arms sore. I missed being able to text a friend who lived five minutes away. I remembered moving sofas at Yale, when random people would join in to lighten the load. Despite knowing that the pandemic had disrupted lives in worse ways, I felt alone, tired, displaced.
“Ooooowee. Whatcha doing with paper bags in this weather?” A short man wearing a CTA vest had exited the car after me, and he was smiling. “I can get you a trash bag if you want,” he offered. My gloom evaporated.
“That would be amazing,” I said a little too emphatically, laughing sheepishly at the misery he’d caught me in. We exchanged social distancing jokes; he brought me a bag twice my size, wished me good luck and left whistling. Lugging my bag behind me on my remaining walk, I felt buoyant and a little more at home.
Even before leaving Yale, we have scattered to a wide variety of places; in the coming years, the places that touch us and are touched by us will number many more. As this global pandemic has restricted our mobility to the hyper-local, it has also highlighted how our neighbors and neighborhoods shape all of our lives.
In the past, places were interchangeable — we could move every other year if we wanted to, live in a different city every three months in high-powered jobs. Our friends were simply a flight or a train ride away. Now, however, the people, places and policies immediately around us have taken on new significance.
On some blocks, everyone is teleworking. On other blocks, everyone is unemployed. Variation in local ordinances determines whether families are evicted when they can’t make rent, whether people are released from prisons that have become pandemic hotspots, and whether essential workers receive protective equipment and hazard pay. The quality and availability of hospitals in one’s neighborhood determines life or death. The problems of segregated resources, housing and communities have confronted health systems, mutual aid groups and governments at all levels.
Moving away from Yale in this unique moment presents each of us with a set of important, ordinary choices as we commence post-college life: where to live, what to consume, who to interact with. What will we take with us from college as we become a part of and strengthen new communities?
For one, I hope we bring our care. In the past four years, we have formed a community that debates vigorously, even with outrage and hot emotion, because we care deeply about what our peers think and do. We think critically and critique because we care about the direction the world around us takes. We built homes because we cared for each other — we were as vulnerable with our friends and suitemates as they were with us, had coffees with strangers to give and receive advice, reached out after plays and classes to ask for notes and give compliments. College may always be a unique time and place in our memories, but those ordinary yet extraordinary forms of care are universally needed wherever we go.
I hope we also bring our imagination and idealism. The energy that mobilized demands for divestment, for better financial aid, for universal pass, should not die once the semester ends. In every place we go, I hope we think inventively about not just what is there, but what could be possible there. The crisis we are graduating into is not simply an economic downturn; it also offers a unique opportunity for us to transform the places around us for the better, to close the deep chasms of inequality and separation that our generation faces. Bridging those gaps requires connection with those affected, as well as creativity and courage — housing-first approaches to homelessness, rehabilitative approaches to justice, accessible and affordable healthcare provision for all.
Too often, we think of life after college as void of community. Who will understand our inside jokes? Our memories and personalities, the common language we’ve developed over the past four years? Especially in large cities, we tend to seek out classmates and people like ourselves for comfort — to remind us of college, to replicate the places we left behind. Doing so, however, misses the bigger picture: I hope we consider everyone around us, including strangers in the subway, to be people we can connect with, people who are capable of helping us and needing us in turn.
We can choose to be open with and interdependent with our neighbors, to truly live with the people around us rather than apart from them. Let us take the foundations of these bright college years to make the places we go not simply geographical locations we reside in, but also meaningful homes.
Liana Wang is a graduating senior and staff columnist in Davenport College. Contact her at email@example.com.