By Ali Husaini || Contributing Writer
As my friend’s car pulled out of the parking lot behind Ware College House and eventually disappeared into the distance, I thought to myself, “I’ll see him again soon, once things go back to normal.”
I could not have been more wrong.
That was March 13, 2020. In just a few short weeks, it will be March 13, 2021.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, it’s as if the only F&M I know is the F&M that exists on my computer screen. Since quickly packing up my room in March, I have yet to set foot on F&M’s campus out of precaution given my asthmatic condition. I have yet to take a trip to downtown Lancaster. I have yet to see my friends in-person or sit in a physical classroom.
The common saying is that you don’t know what you have until it’s taken away. As I started my second full semester entirely online last week, I began to reflect on what I once had when things were normal. Buried in my distant memories were the times when I went to my favorite Lancaster restaurants with my friends, attended and ran club meetings, and “studied” in the library.
Yet at the same time, I could not help but feel a sense of regret. If only I had done more. If only I had joined that club. If only I had spoken up and taken more of a leadership role. If only I had spent more time talking, laughing, and hanging out with friends. If only I had spent more time meeting new people and trying new things. If only I had taken more risks. And the “if-only’s” continued for a while, as I reflected upon the many aspects of the college experience that had been swallowed up by the COVID-19 pandemic and exiled into the virtual world of Zoom.
Even after almost a year, it seems surreal that what was once a college experience away from home is now an experience on the screen of my computer 120 miles away from F&M’s physical campus. I find that I, along with many other longtime remote learners, are still trying to come to terms with this fact. I remember my first trip to visit F&M, just six weeks or so before first-year orientation. Amazed by the towering Old Main and the spacious Hartman Green, I felt like I was ready to begin my journey of growth and to take on the world. There was no way I could have imagined a global pandemic suddenly forcing such radical changes in my college experience. And to this day, I feel as if there is something unresolved as if my original vision of growth and success has not quite been realized just yet.
I don’t write these words merely to lament what has been lost or what could have been. I am grateful that despite a pandemic that has infected millions of people and taken the lives of many others, I am safe and healthy as I continue my virtual education through F&M. I continue to value and take advantage of the experiences I have as I lead a club, serve on executive boards, and participate in my classes, even all of this happens online. I write these words as a lesson to myself and to others to value what we have. Those of you who are on campus, make the most of it, albeit in a safe and socially distanced manner. And if you are an F&M student studying remotely reading this, you should know: You are no less an F&M student than anyone else, no matter the reason you are studying remotely. Many others and I can understand the challenges you face and continue to support you as you make the most of F&M as you can.
With the new coronavirus variants potentially complicating the pandemic further, that scene of my friend’s car leaving campus and turning onto the Harrisburg Pike could possibly be my last memory of my time at F&M. But I know that if I am so fortunate as to set foot on F&M’s campus as a student again, I will return with the realization that being on F&M’s campus itself is a privilege and that the stakes of taking that experience for granted are far too high. Being an F&M student during these uncertain times has trained me to live a more deliberate life, to treasure every moment, and to waste none.
One day, I hope to return to campus safely as a senior to bring my F&M story full circle. But until that time, I ask that all F&M students continue to be smart and practice all public health precautions. Now is certainly not the time to become lax. And for those of you who are on campus and seeing your friends in-person, take a little bit of time every now and then to see how your friends who aren’t on campus are doing. We want to hear from you, and we often feel distant from campus. Finally, for those of you who are studying remotely and who also have a case of the “if only’s,” remember to forgive yourself. Use this as a learning opportunity and take charge of your future. The beauty of an F&M education is that it isn’t merely the four years you spend working toward the degree. The four years are but the beginning of a lifetime of learning, so embrace the lifelong journey without being weighed down by your past.
We are all part of the collective F&M story, and our resilience and patience during these times is nothing short of commendable. As we navigate uncertainty together, let us all commit ourselves to living deliberate lives of continuous growth, learning, and community.
Junior Ali Husaini is a contributing writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.