My daughter has started her senior year. It’s cliché, for sure, but it feels like her last year of college snuck up and caught us all by surprise. For her, it’s not necessarily a good surprise – like so many of her friends, she’s not ready for it to end. College didn’t measure up to the traditional experience she’s been envisioning.
The Class of 2022 will forever have shared an experience that won’t require context for the audience to understand. I wonder how long it will take to talk about these years in a similar manner as we discuss traumatic events that are (almost?) behind us, that changed us forever but didn’t stop us from moving forward. And how will their growth as human beings be measured in the aftermath?
When I talk about silver linings of the pandemic, I qualify it every time. Our family didn’t experience the tragedy of lost life or prolonged illness, our housing wasn’t impacted, and we didn’t worry about whether we’d have food on our table. We are immensely grateful. If it’s possible to characterize something positive that’s emerging from this dark time, it is the personal growth I’ve seen in my daughter and her peers. Generally, I’ve observed the way they measure what’s important has broadened and deepened. There’s greater priority given to relationships and the welfare of others – and an understanding of how fragile life can be.
This particular group of students has had an extraordinarily accelerated path to growth and development. As a parent, I fully expected when my daughter started her college experience that her learning would not be limited to just academics. I knew she’d be expanding her coping and people skills, stepping out of her comfort zone regularly, and experiencing opportunities to see her future self-reflected back at her in emerging clarity.
But no one expected what we got. What has struck me is that the tools to support the development of humility, humanity, and wisdom in a college student finding their way through a pandemic are the same tools required on any given day. Listening, validating her experience, and holding space for her fear help me navigate life with my young adult. It’s been the amount of time and duration that these tools are put to use that’s markedly different.
Lolli Fleming is the parent of a UMass senior and current member of the UMass Amherst Parent Advisory Council