A Bittersweet Return to School

| 01 Sep 2021 | 01:03

For the first time in over a year and a half, on Thursday, September 2, New York University will resume in-person classes. Students, like myself, sporting violet pride won’t have to necessarily worry about Zoom links and staying awake in late-night virtual classrooms.

The thought of returning to school like this forces mixed feelings in me. I feel happy to be seeing my peers on a consistent weekly basis instead of a confusing, alternating hybrid learning schedule — where some weeks are spent online and some in-person — but I never expected my graduate experience to be like this. How could anyone?

Marred in a way by the original outbreak, the school has been remote in at least some capacity since students returned from spring break in mid-March 2020. Despite having in-person learning, this school year still won’t exactly resemble times before the global shutdown. In an email sent to all students on August 26, Linda G. Mills, Vice Chancellor and Senior Provost of Global Programs and University Life, and Dr. Carlo Ciotoli, MD, MPA, Executive Leader of NYU’s COVID Prevention & Response Team, stated that while there is a 95 percent vaccination rate among students, they should continue to wear masks on campus in “all common and public spaces” to continue to curb the spread of the virus.

In other emails, Ciotoli and NYU President Andrew Hamilton explained that this continued masking, as well as required weekly testing, are a part of the school’s plan to combat the Delta variant. Hamilton and Ciotoli also said they would monitor the situation regarding a need for COVID-19 booster shots. An Aug. 31 communication reiterating much of the same offered the school’s catchy slogan: “Mask Up. Delta Down.”

Virtual Graduation

My undergraduate school, in sunny Florida, went solely online in my senior year at around the same time that NYU did. My graduation was virtual, and I didn’t even partake since it fell on my birthday. Four years and no walk across the stage. But, of course, I am considered an alumnus now and they call and email me frequently for donations.

Coming to NYU in Fall 2020, I was used to the concept of virtual learning, but happy to do hybrid learning. Now this will be the first time in well over a year that I, as well as other students and faculty at NYU and across the country, return to a fully in-person learning format.

Aside from NYU’s stalwart masking rule and guidelines that frown upon eating in the classroom, it will almost feel normal. This very well may be our new normal. Everything in schooling, public or private, feels a bit safer. Maybe it’s not a bad thing. If anything, as we enter flu season it is refreshing to still see hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes and I hope they remain more commonplace in the classroom.

It feels so bittersweet though, because right as NYU, its own little microcosm of Manhattan, is beginning to write its own comeback story, I will be entering my last semester of graduate school. It feels almost unfair, like I have been robbed of a university experience in some way, with so many of NYU’s iconic amenities closed or, like the gyms, just recently opened. But I alone chose to pursue higher education in a pandemic. And the optimism I feel for the future of academia outweighs any possible FOMO (fear of missing out).

Education has always been a bastion in my life. It has been there when my mother signed off on reading logs or my father tutored helped me with math, and it always will be in one way or another. I am just slightly bitter I won’t get to experience the full glory of NYU felt by students pre-pandemic, but I have shared in similar school experiences which a pandemic will never fully uproot, such as the communal rapture (to any of the dozens of tunes you are closest to) in Washington Square Park on a weekend.

I remain hopeful, though. With the announcement of NYU’s own Vax Pass, a way for students, faculty, visitors, as well as NYU-affiliates and vendors can safely partake in “vaccine only” events, I believe this semester might have some opportunities for campus-sponsored fun after all. Only time will tell if these supposed measures the school has in place will keep the virus and its various strains at bay, but so long as there will be some form of on-campus events going forward, it will at least be better than last year.