When I began my final year of university, I expected a few things to happen. I expected to spend six months slaving over my dissertation, to spend more late nights in the library than I’d ever done before and for my final term to be filled with bittersweet moments that reminded me that my university experience was about to come to an end. What I didn’t expect was to spend most of my final semester back in my childhood home in the middle of a global pandemic. The past couple of months have been unpredictable to say the least. But in the unpredictability and uncertainty, I’ve learnt lessons that will stay with me much longer than any essay title or exam mark ever will.
1. Let each moment in your life be yours.
These past couples of months have been a series of cancelled events, postponed plans and unexpected outcomes and, if I’m honest, I spent the first few weeks of lockdown scrolling through my calendar and feeling sad about the plans I’ve had to cancel. In doing so, I found myself imagining what my life would look like right now if my final year had ended as my September-self thought it would. But the truth is, the version of me who had the ideal final semester doesn’t exist. She’s a figment of my imagination. A fictional self I’ve been projecting my ideas of what my life should look like onto, rather than a realistic depiction of how it would have actually been. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to always be living the best possible version of our lives - to be as happy and motivated and successful as we possibly can, but the reality is life happens in seasons. It wouldn’t make sense to be angry at trees for not being covered in blossom in the middle of Autumn, because that’s not their purpose nor their choice. Autumn will never be spring, and so we shouldn’t beat ourselves up because the 2020 we got wasn’t the 2020 we expected. The final year I expected was one filled with exciting events, concerts, balls and a graduation ceremony, but the final year I got was one sat at home with my family. While it wasn’t the one I’d anticipated it’s given me the opportunity to spend time with the people I love and work on projects I would have never had the time to start. Be kind to yourself and take each moment and chapter of your life for what it is.
2. Appreciate the mundane moments because you’ll never have them again.
Ever since leaving campus, I’ve found myself daydreaming about the most mundane things. Like, walking past the lake on a sunny day or power walking to a seminar that I’m definitely going to be three minutes late to. I can’t even explain how much I miss trying (and failing) to get work done in the Hive with the sound of the microwave and overheard chatter about the night before. When that was my everyday life, I took it for granted; I assumed that what I’d miss most would be the big, exciting, climactic moments. Instead, there’s nothing I want to relive more than just a normal Tuesday in the middle of term. When we’re in a moment, we take it for granted; we spend it thinking about tomorrow or last week and rarely stop to savour it. Being permanently pulled out of the normality of student life so suddenly has taught me to really appreciate the moments I’m living through and lean into the current chapter. Even if it’s filled with more questions than I have answers for because each year the every day fades into a memory.
3. Trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.
I’ve spent a lot of time watching old commencement speeches and one that has stayed with me is Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford speech. In it, he talks about how when he was in his early twenties, he often couldn’t make sense of the things that were happening to him. But as he got older, he found himself looking back and being able to connect the dots. He was able to see how everything had shaped him into the person he’d grown up to become. He never would’ve been able to see those connections at the time; it only made sense when he was far enough from them to have perspective on them. Over the past couple of years of university, things have happened that I still can’t make sense of, and when they happened it was hard to believe that they would ever have a positive outcome later in my life. But they did.
When graduation week finally comes around in July, I won’t be donning a cap and gown and walking across the cathedral stage to collect my degree, but I’ll still be saying goodbye and thank you to the last four years of my life. Taking the lessons I’ve been taught and carrying them with me, long after my Zoom celebrations and back garden photoshoots end.
I will admit, nothing about this pandemic makes sense, and I would never reduce the human cost it has had into the empty platitude that ‘everything happens for a reason’. But I know that in ten years when we look back on 2020, we’ll be able to connect the dots and see how every unexpected event taught us a valuable lesson. In hindsight, we’ll see how the dots connected to make up the stories of our lives.
Rufaro Mazarura is the host of Class of 2020, a podcast about studying, graduating and coming of age in the midst of a pandemic. You can listen to the podcast here, follow it at @classof2020podcast on Instagram and get in touch at the email email@example.com