As we approach the dreaded one year anniversary of the death of normality, I have been bracing myself for the onslaught of nostalgic TikToks, doleful Instagram posts and RTÉ news montages commemorating one year of social isolation.
Every generation seems to have their own reasons for why the last year has been especially tough on them. While we could spend all day listing the various reasons why every birth year represents a different set of milestones lost to social isolation, I’ve been reflecting on how I want to remember my own college experience. I’ve become determined to ensure that my pre-pandemic college memories aren’t completely clouded by the overwhelming gloom of the past 11 months.
Since starting college, I have acquired a newfound understanding of the fabled notion of “living in the present”. I spent so many of my teenage years visualising college and the friends I hoped to make there that in first year I resolved to stop living in the future, and to appreciate every chaotic or impromptu opportunity that came my way.
Painfully aware of my own obliviousness to the world and mostly unaware of my inability to cover this up, I often prioritised socialising over study. But in light of everything that’s happened this year, I am incredibly grateful to my past self for her endless capacity for procrastination.
I’ve become determined to ensure that my pre-pandemic college memories aren’t completely clouded by the overwhelming gloom of the past 11 months
I’m lucky to be living on campus this year, so I’ve not been entirely deprived of access to college. But let’s be real – none of us chose to study here solely out of a desire to admire the architecture. Campus is but a shadow of the vibrant, seagull-infested tourist trap that it once was, and it is truly devastating to witness.
Social scientists will spend years analysing the psychological toll of the abruptness of the havoc wrought on our personal lives last March. Big, loud life events such as weddings, concerts, graduations and music festivals were systematically cancelled without warning or a clear path to their return. And like everyone else, the sudden absence of college rituals such as Trinity Ball and my beloved end-of-year society balls have left me feeling bereft. But gradually, as this initial shock and bewilderment has made way for reluctant acceptance, I have found myself mourning the quiet mundanities of college life instead of these more traditional social milestones.
I never thought I would long for the days of side-stepping camera-wielding tourists to make my way to the Buttery, but now I don’t think there is anything I would enjoy more. Of course, I would do anything for one last night traipsing down Harcourt St with my friends, but I would be as grateful now for one last spring afternoon in the library. I’m talking about those days when I’d wander bleary-eyed into the Ussher straight from a 9am, open my laptop and almost immediately accept a classmate’s coffee invitation only to spend the rest of the day racking up stamps on my Coffeeangel loyalty card. Or being diverted from your walk home from the Hamilton by the rising hum of chatter and clinking Pratsky cans emanating from the Pav on sunny April afternoons. I had no business then being that carefree, but I can only thank my past self for having the presence of mind to neglect academic prudence in favour of spontaneity.
I have found myself mourning the quiet mundanities of college life instead of these more traditional social milestones
But even less extravagantly than that, I miss the scent of smoke as you wandered past the Arts’ Block benches and avoiding eye contact with the usual cast of intimidating characters assembled in various shades of distressed denim. I miss the faux sophistication of discussing literature over a free bottle of Canadian before a Thursday Phil debate, and quietly willing myself to one day apply to speak at one. I feel almost homesick for the floor outside the Edmund Burke, where I’d give myself pins and needles by sitting down with friends every day.
I never expected that my weird propensity for remembering very specific, often mundane happenings would become this useful. But as I come to terms with spending my last term of college in my bedroom, I am endlessly thankful for this eclectic and colourful catalogue of random happenstance incidents.
Instead of dwelling on the grey monotony of online learning, or pining for the crazy nights out you so sorely miss, I implore you to reflect on the beautiful ordinariness of everyday college life. Take charge of how you want to define your college life in the years to come. Decide now not to dwell too much on all that was lost, but to commit all these simple things to memory instead. And hope that our younger colleagues will get to experience them soon.