The heat of August finally subsided, replaced by whisperings of the deliciously brisk autumn to come. It was a cool evening as my mom and I strolled around campus, and I took in the Gothic architecture of the University with fresh eyes. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found the plaque for “CAMPBELL HALL 4,” my new residence for the upcoming year. No longer was I just a townie, or an onlooker who lived nearby — I was about to be a student! I was about to be part of the Princeton experience.
The summer of 2017 was one of last goodbyes and new beginnings. That was the summer which saw the freedom of completing high school grow into the buzzing excitement of becoming a young adult on the brink of tasting, purportedly, the “best four years of one’s life.” That was the summer when life was both restless and languorous. The future was simultaneously exciting and scary, but one thing was for certain — it was going to be great.
When I walked around campus during my last weeks as a prefrosh, I had no real connection to campus — yet. No friends who made it feel like home, no access to buildings whose contents I couldn’t even fathom. And now, three years later on a languid day in the summer of 2020, I am here again, sitting on Poe field, somehow feeling that same lack of connection. Everyone who brought campus to life for me is gone, and I am again but a stranger to these lonely buildings.
Everything is quiet. It’s as if the campus itself has aged. When the students left, they took their tears and joy, their angst and euphoria, and all the restless youthful energy in between, completely. What remains feels dormant. There’s an air of wistfulness … but then again, maybe that’s just me.
I have spent so long grappling with the sadness of this next year, my senior year. I can’t help but feel such a strong sense of loss: goodbye to those long nights of chaotic laughter, or evenings spent dancing carefree with friends; no more cuddle puddles under the stars, no more dropping into my eating club to warm up with some hot tea in the presence of people that I love. A sense of loss for everything I was going to do but now will never get to. Of course, these three years haven’t just been a rose-tinted reel of highlights— but still, I miss them.
And yet, I have also spent time healing. Though I can’t change the fact that senior year won’t play out how I wanted it to, for every memory I looked forward to creating, I have many more which I am fortunate to have already experienced. I am grateful for spontaneous conversations and chance encounters, for late nights talking with roommates and laughing about life. I am thankful for small academic victories, like contributing meaningfully in precept or doing my best on a problem set. I am even appreciative of the difficult memories — the times when I cried because I didn’t feel like enough, or when I wondered if I even belonged here — because they helped me grow.
This pandemic is undoubtedly a tragedy, but I remind myself that I don’t need to live in tragedy. The almost-three years I’ve had at Princeton so far have already bestowed upon me lifelong friendships, experiences that have changed the way I see the world, and enough happy memories saved up for even the rainiest of days. Though easier said than done, I remind myself that these are what will last even beyond the pandemic — these are what cannot be taken away. The summer of 2017 was one of last goodbyes and new beginnings. Though the summer of 2020 sure has felt more like last goodbyes, perhaps it is still a chance for new beginnings.