Time Cut Short

Mere minutes after Penn State announced that it would continue remote instruction for the remainder of the semester due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 900 Penn State seniors joined a GroupMe titled “the best 3.67 years.”

Memes and jokes poking a little tragic fun at the sobering announcement quickly poured in as the Class of 2020 realized that its time at Penn State was, effectively, over.

Sure, online classes continue, even with the instructional issues that accompany them. Commencement has been “postponed.” But at the moment, it seems that the announcement of the closure has forced us, if we haven’t already, to face several dire realities.

The first and most important of these realities is the scale and severity of the pandemic, which has effectively brought the world and the nation to a halt. Thousands more people will become sick, and some of them will die. Millions more will be affected by the economic ramifications of a worldwide shutdown. People, especially those who are vulnerable in our community, will suffer from both aspects of this problem, and it’s time to step up and help, even if that means just staying home.

The second is the familiar feeling of helplessness, the feeling of anger, fear, and sadness without a human or institutional agent to blame. Penn State needed to make this call — to bring students back to campus under the current circumstances would be irresponsible. And although scrutinizing the government’s response to such a serious threat is necessary, the pandemic has shown us that unimaginable things can, and do, happen.

But on a personal level, it has forced us to realize that time and the wonderful things we take for granted — sports, our friends, learning in a classroom — can all be cut short in the blink of an eye. And for the Class of 2020, it was a harsh introduction to the real world that came harder and faster than many thought it could.

One of the first memes to be posted in the 3.67 years group chat was a screenshot from “The Office,” with the classic Andy Bernard quote: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you leave them.”

What the final few months, days, or even hours of school offer is a chance for saying a meaningful goodbye to one stage and making a graceful step to the next. However cliché the commencement speeches become, however many pictures you’re forced to pose for in front of the Lion Shrine, it all offers a sense of closure to a formative stage of life.

This year’s graduating class won’t have that luxury in its purest form. Many names that were supposed to be carved into bar booth tables will go unwritten. We will move on, but with a lingering awareness of a several-month block of what could have been.

Hopefully, this will remind us of the gravity of the crisis we face and inspire us to help each other and those who have lost much, much more than a few months of school. By no means is the fun completely over, nor are the conditions we find ourselves under a constant that will last for years.

And although it won’t end as we thought it would, maybe we can still squeeze hope and joy and friendship from the last of this set of “good old days.”

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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