by Stephen Buckley, Content Manager
For someone who typically thinks about the future and plans ahead, the feeling of not knowing where I would be in a few months was not a pleasant one. Last April, I decided to attend Georgia Tech. It was one of the most fulfilling and relieving moments of my life; I had settled on a college that had an ideal campus, social life, academics, weather, and cost. It felt like all of my hard work in high school had culminated in this moment, this period of clarity about my future. However, this clarity quickly turned into a cloud of uncertainty that loomed over my head during most of the summer.
I assumed that COVID-19 cases would continue to fall and that by the time August rolled around, everything would look much better and I would peacefully go to Georgia Tech’s campus in Atlanta. Of course, my expectations were not reality. COVID-19 cases continued to rise in the U.S. over the summer, but more terrifyingly, they steadily rose in Georgia. Until June, the state never consistently had more than around 800 new COVID-19 cases per day, but that number quickly spiked to 3,000-4,000 new cases per day in July. Needless to say, I was scared. I didn’t want to begin my college years sitting at home and joining BlueJeans calls (GT's version of Zoom).
Despite the rise in COVID-19 cases, Georgia Tech had us on campus. My move-in day was August 8th, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Before I continue, I have a question: have you ever re-experienced the beauty in something at such a substantial level that it feels like you never experienced it before? Maybe you re-watched a movie that you initially watched when you could not completely appreciate it, and you saw quality and beauty in it that you never saw before. Maybe you experienced an album front-to-back that you only heard parts of beforehand, and the context of the album gave you an appreciation of how every song fits together. Well, that is what happened to me when I saw GT’s campus for the second time. When I visited, I calmly thought “This is a pretty nice place.” However, when I moved in and took some time to walk around campus as a student, I saw a beauty in it that I had never experienced before. I saw Tech Green, a scenic and central part of GT’s campus that I would eventually walk by every day. I saw the elegant brick walkway that connects East and West Campus in which I would end up taking late-night walks on to de-stress and/or contemplate.
On my first day in college, I also met extraordinary people that ended up becoming quality friends of mine. I had already become friends with a couple of people from my living-learning community over the summer, so I met up with them. We ate dinner with other people from our community, and the rest is history. From my friends to others that I’ve come into contact with, I can say that most people here are of the utmost quality. They are all extremely smart and talented, but they are not arrogant nor do they think lesser of anyone else. I can just as easily have a serious, thoughtful discussion about politics with them as I can ramble about nonsense with them. That is a combination that is hard to find.
As refreshing as my experience coming to college was, the extreme uncertainty was always there. My fear of not going to college left, but COVID-19 didn’t. Every part of my life was a reminder of that; I have worn (and continue to wear) a mask any time I step outside of my room, I only really see people with masks on, I use an excessive amount of hand sanitizer, and every in-person event (including hangouts) is socially distanced. The adjustments themselves have not been too much of an inconvenience, but they remind me that there is still a pandemic without a vaccine or cure. With this, I consistently felt uncertain about my future here in college. I would ask myself questions like, “Are we going to be sent home due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, just like last spring?” and “What happens if I pick up the virus and have to quarantine for two weeks?”
After struggling with these questions for a while, I realized that I had to change my mindset. I always think about what the future will behold, but doing so in this case was not beneficial for my mental health nor my overall college experience. To appreciate what I had in my surroundings, friends, and every other amazing feature of my life here at Georgia Tech, I had to start living day-by-day. I started telling myself, “I only know two things: I love being here and I am here right now. As for tomorrow? I can worry about that tomorrow.” While I would not always recommend the day-to-day mindset (for example, you should probably study for exams well before the day of), it has given me inner peace. It has enabled me to enjoy my time here without stressing about how long that time will be. If there is anything to take away from my experience, it is this: don’t worry about what’s out of your control and fully appreciate what you have now, even if what you have is temporary.