A Message for My College Students: Do It for You
Last week I launched my little Medium writing project and was writing and posting up a storm. I thought to myself, “yep, I can do this daily.” I then decided on Saturday to take the weekends off. Because, well, I deserved it. Also, given that I’ve been in my house for — how many days has it been now — I don’t know, let’s say 13 (or 207, give or take) — I needed something to make the days feel different, so not writing would do that.
Then Monday came. As in two days ago. I thought about what I could write. Nothing immediately came to mind. Also I wasn’t really in the mood to write. I had taught two classes and that felt like pretty much all I needed to do for the day. I thought, “what about all of my readers!?!” Then I literally laughed out loud; my wife and friends will be okay if I don’t post on Monday.
Next up, Tuesday. What to write about today? Hmm…. is this writer’s block? Have I gotten writer’s block after 6 days of writing? Wow, that sucks.
As I was going through this internal turmoil I thought about the many college students who are now trying to will themselves to do school work as they sit in the family room, or the bedroom they grew up in, or on a friend’s couch, or in a lonely off-campus apartment. I tried to remember what made me want to do this whole Medium thing to begin with. Those thoughts led me to something to actually write about today.
I had two conversations with students toward the end of 2019 that come to mind now. I asked one student who was going through a lot at the time what made her happy. She paused for a long time. She actually couldn’t immediately think of anything. But she still lit up for the simple fact that I asked her the question. No one had asked her before. She thanked me again via email a few days after we met because the process of thinking about the things that made her happy put her in a much better head space and helped her see things differently.
The second student was getting stuck in a major writing project. I asked her what made her take on that particular topic. What did she see in the questions that she had originally posed, and what did she think she could contribute through her work? I wanted her to reconnect to the energy she had when she had shared the idea with me months earlier. Just as I needed to remind myself that my Medium writing was for me.
This semester from COVID-19 hell is dragging, and lonely, and totally chaotic. But it’s almost over. It’s not going to end pretty. But it will end. And as difficult as these final few weeks are going to be, if you can seek joy in the journey and be kind to yourself, you will get through the finish line. Here are some reminders:
- Give yourself the flexibility to learn. Don’t stress about the grades and requirements right now. Let yourself dive deep into the reading. Write some reflections just for you. Get started on a paper early. Email the professor some questions to push the conversation further. Pretend like each class is an independent study (and with this distance learning thing it can definitely feel like it is) and try to have as much fun with it as you can while you do the driving.
- Give yourself the gift of connection. Make time each day to have a meaningful conversation with at least three people: someone from college, someone from high school (student or old teacher), and someone else (family, friend, mentor, old boss, someone you haven’t seen in a while). These FaceTime talks and DM chains won’t take the place of all of your campus activities and in-person interactions, but they will boost your spirits and keep you sane.
- Give yourself the resources that are still available to you. You’re in isolation, but you’re not alone. Use virtual office hours, tutoring sessions, peer advising, counseling, and more. Check in with your cultural centers and student clubs. Speak to academic advisors, financial aid, and whoever else you need to have the fullest campus experience possible.
- Give yourself the space to grieve. There are going to be some sad days for you. There’s not a lot of good news right now, and certainly way too much uncertainty. You may make a schedule with the perfect set of goals on Monday and not be able to follow through on a single thing on Tuesday. It’s okay. Be easy with yourself. Take one thing at a time, one day at a time. If the bounce back isn’t happening for you, reach out and let someone know. Again, it’s okay. You’re not the only one, and people will be happy to be there for you and listen.
- Give yourself the promise that you made. Maybe it was last year this time that you were deciding on what college you would be calling home. Or maybe it’s been almost four years, and you’re closing this thing out now. Think back to all of those dreams and things you set out to do. Some of them won’t be physically possible right now, but get creative and keep the promise. Finish strong, family, with all of the belief and vision and courage that you had from the beginning. Do it for you. You absolutely can do this.