A Letter to College Students

Dear colleagues,

We’ve been silent for long enough.

I’ve held off for nearly three months now, on telling our story, because there are others whose stories were timelier, more distressing, more imperative. I don’t wish to overlook the plight of those who have been far unluckier than we. Of those who have suffered in far greater ways than we could ever imagine.

I didn’t tell our story because I thought it would be selfish. But we’ve been forgotten. We are 21.9 million strong, yet who speaks for us? We are voiceless. We have gone unheard. We have suffered and endured at the hands of this virus, just as have everyone else, yet who recognizes our unique plight? Forgive me for speaking selfishly. If others have the right to voice their straits, I think it time we finally unearth ours.

This is our story.

For me, I remember quite brilliantly the day the world went to shit.

It was any ordinary Saturday morning, and I – still the same perpetual study-hard I’d always been, even in the midst of a pandemic – was gearing up to take a computer science final. Over the course of the past week, like tepid fog, a sense of urgency had rolled in to campus. Yet for me, and for most everyone, life went on just as it had before. We continued our classes, albeit remotely. We made preparations to leave, if we could. We studied for our finals. We took our finals. Yet quick as snapped fingers, I received word that the man I loved had been booked on a flight for the following morning. In a little under forty-eight hours’ time, if you took a shovel to the dirt at my feet and drilled all the way to the other side of the earth, that’s where you’d find him. And just like that, a scenario which I’d been coping with, became a devastation I couldn’t bear.

Because we, as a collective, lost our loved ones when this virus hit. Either we left them, in cars and planes and trains destined for a home we no longer call home, or they left us. We left, or were left behind. We weren’t given the courtesy of longwinded goodbyes. One day, we were friends, lovers, partners, boyfriends/girlfriends, significant others, friends with benefits, friends with cuddles, friends with goodness-knows-what, and the next we were strangers. We woke up one morning to find that everyone we’d grown to care for and love over the course of the past year, had evaporated into thin air. Or, we woke up in a strange bed with strange bedfellows, that aroma of freshly-baked bread and mowed grass and mustiness that shrieked childhood! Of happiness and simpler days!, but that we’d never today associate with home, and rolled over onto the other side of it, to find a chill and an emptiness, where days before there’d been a warm body to wrap our arms around. The bitch of it was – we weren’t given any closure. Our friends and lovers were ripped from our grasp, bits of our still-beating hearts torn from the crevice in our chest and handed to each and every one of them as souvenirs for their journeys home. We were given hours to say our last goodbyes. Some of our loved ones, we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to at all.

Just like that, and in the span of a few days, we died a hundred little deaths, because the greatest tragedy that befell us a little less than three months ago, is the loved ones we lost. Each and every day, I miss them. I wake up, missing them. I go to bed, missing them. Because the world is a different place now, and even if university starts back up in the fall with in-person classes, some of them aren’t coming back. And even if they do, the reality is that the person you left, and the person they left, have died since. This virus has changed all of us, for better or worse. Over the course of quarantine, your people have either shed their skin a few hundred times, into something unrecognizable to you, or they’ve fallen for others, and don’t plan to return to you at all. Call it pessimism, or truth, but one way or another, what we lost just a few months ago, we lost for good.

But this isn’t about them.

This is about us.

Because we lost more than that. A little less than three months ago, we were displaced. Coronavirus kicked us out of our homes and threw us out onto our asses. To put things into perspective, note that the world’s largest, current diaspora owes its roots to the Indian subcontinent, from which 17.5 million Indian citizens have been displaced. Compare that to the 21.9 million college students – in the United States alone – who were flung out of our homes when the virus hit, and sent packing. Yet you’ll never see our names, nor our numbers, in any history textbook. Most of us were forced back to our roots – to a hometown that now feels foreign and strange. A hometown which no longer gives us any comfort or sense of belonging, because both of those, we’d finally built for ourselves on a campus we finally called home. Yet others of us had it worse – we either had no home to return to, or the virus had halted travel to our homes and left us truly homeless, hopping from couch to couch in a foreign city, navigating final exams and the risk of contracting a lethal virus while hunting for an apartment on a college kid’s ramen noodle budget. Who has it worse? Those struggling to make ends meet in the worst job market since the Great Depression, or those thrust back in time to their high school days, mentally and emotionally regressing into a younger version of ourselves, one caged in by our parents’ loving, yet freedom-flinging chokehold?

And there are the millions of miscellanies – the struggles we don’t even realize we’ve been through, because we’ve been through so much. The final exams we were forced to take in the midst of a pandemic. The professors whose apathy knew no bounds. The final exams we failed. The courses we failed, because our previous worries – a 4.0 GPA, securing internships, getting a job, transferring universities – had devolved into Will I survive a trip to the grocery store today? Some of us fell into depression. Some of us got sick. Some of us lost our internships. Some of us couldn’t hack Zoom University or were too distracted by matters of life and death to do so, and ended up failing courses for the first time in our life. Some of us have graduated into a soaring unemployment rate, a skyrocketing drying-up of opportunities, a job market reminiscent of 1929, with nowhere to go and nothing to our names besides a worthless piece of paper signed by a chancellor whose hand we’ll never get the opportunity to shake, as that rite of passage into adulthood – graduation – was, too, torn from us.

And, perhaps I speak even more selfishly now, but I end my letter with a note on something of great importance to college students, whether we choose to admit it publicly or not – and that’s sex. We are, objectively, the horniest demographic on the planet – or, as one of my Tinder compatriots coined, the quarniest (quarantine/horny). So, what are we to do? Our lovers have left us, or we, them. Yet going on a date with a stranger, or having sex with one, or whatever it is you’re looking for from another human being, is a matter of life and death at the moment. Simply existing within the same six-foot bubble as any other living, breathing thing, puts you at risk of contracting a virus which might very well kill you or your loved ones. If breathing in the same air molecules as another human can kill, what justification can we put forth for mixing saliva? Are we willing to risk our lives for intimacy? For companionship? For love? It seems pathetic of us to say so. But the reality of the matter is, I’m tired of quarantine. I’m touch-starved. I’m cuddle-starved. We all are. So, each and every day, it becomes harder and harder to justify safety, over human companionship and physical intimacy. Shared human touch is not voluntary – it’s a basic, human need, just as is the air we breathe. Do you remember the story of the orphanage? Of the dozens of babies found, dead in their cribs, for the sole reason that there hadn’t been enough nurses to pick them up, to hold them, to offer them the comfort in touch? Though we might not be infants, we don’t require touch any less. With our libidos tacked onto the mix, we need it even more. And right now, at a stark scarcity of it, we’re seeing the dating scene shrivel up, replaced by hookup culture. We’re tired. We’re horny. We’re not willing to wait to get to know someone, to navigate the perilous courtship scene, to build suspense and the like – until we inevitably get into their pants. We’re young and dumb and lonely. And perhaps the most tragic thing to have come of this virus so far, is our apathy toward other human beings. The need to satisfy our loneliness with rapid-turnover, instant gratification. We love ‘em and leave ‘em. And that needs to stop. Get your fill, but do remember, that the reason you’re in the bind that you are right now, is because you didn’t build yourself a stable relationship before the virus hit, and so you were abandoned by the superficial connections you did make. So please, if you take away anything from my ramblings to you, it should be this:

Go back to looking for love. It’s out there, and it’s waiting. I know I am.

But I’ve gone on long enough. Our stories should be told, but we shouldn’t remain beholden to them. We should, as always, look ahead. My motto, one that many of you have likely heard me say, is Solutions, Not Regrets. So, I leave you with that sentiment. Don’t you dare fret over the past. Don’t you dare regret the things you’ve done. Look for solutions to the messes you’ve made. Look to the opportunities busting down your door, or the ones whose doors you can bust down, instead. What this virus has done to us, does not define us. What we do in the wake of it, does.

             Sincerely,

             Just another college kid.

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