While the first day of class is always exciting, this year felt different for obvious reasons. Most students had not stepped foot in a classroom in nearly 18 months, instead facing the challenges of Zoom from all different corners of the world. After juggling technology difficulties, Zoom fatigue, time differences, and the other myriad of challenges that accompanied remote learning, there was an evident sense of relief throughout campus as students and faculty were finally able to return to physical learning spaces.
This heightened eagerness propelled students to seize the opportunity to engage with their classes on a deeper level — we should harness this momentum as the semester continues and the novelty of in-person classes wears off.
On September 1, for the first time in my college career, I had the chance to walk to class with a friend and then sit next to her in lecture. Thus, the day marked not only the start of a new academic year, but also the relinquishment of many of last year’s social distancing rules and the resumption of being physically closer to our peers and other members of the Princeton community.
As I have learned throughout the past year and a half, physical proximity plays an important role in connecting with others. We are finally able to grab dinner with multiple friends without having to worry about sitting so far apart that we have trouble hearing each other. We can talk to our professors and classmates in person, alleviating much of the confusion that accompanied online learning.
While I had previously been grateful for my education and in-person classes, this appreciation was limited and often curbed by the stress and dread I associated with schoolwork. I rarely, if ever, recognized the privilege I had — being able to physically attend classes, being surrounded by my peers, chatting with my teachers after class, and having a bona fide community at school. Throughout the past year and a half, however, I became keenly aware of the trivial components of my education that I had previously taken for granted.
So as I returned to school this year, my enthusiasm for the year ahead was much greater than years before as I had developed a deeper appreciation for the everyday pleasures of school that we had to sacrifice due to the pandemic. Over these past few days, I found myself turning to Joni Mitchell’s lyrics from “Big Yellow Taxi,” where she imparts, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
Fortunately, in-person school is no longer “gone,” but for quite some time it was. Only after losing the ability to go to school and all of the enjoyments that come with it was I able to truly develop gratitude for it.
I hope that I, as well as my peers and teachers, can harness this newfound gratitude and use it to propel us — not only in these first few weeks but throughout our lives — reminding ourselves how lucky we are to once again be learning in each other’s midst. While this year may be accompanied with more guidelines than past years, let the past year and a half motivate us to follow these rules that remain in place in order to maintain the privilege of attending school in person.
Ava Milberg is a sophomore from New York City. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.