April 7th, 2021 marked my last day of classes in my undergrad. Over my final year, I’ve had many people come up to me and say, “you’ve got this.” and “you’re so close!” added with comments such as “at least you’re not in first year! They have it worse, not a true experience!” That final comment was always unnecessary, untrue, and frustrating for me.
Friday, March 13th, 2020 was the last time I ever stepped foot into a classroom, and when the pandemic shut everything down in Ontario, Canada. The last time I ever got to laugh in person with my friends over our professor or go to the library with friends for hours and work through assignments. The last time I thanked my professors and said bye in person. At the time, I did not realize these were my last’s. September 2020 rolled around, and all of my courses were online with little hope of them moving for the winter semester. In my previous three years at the University of Guelph, I had established excellent study habits and time management skills for being in a classroom. Online classes were never for me; I struggle with teaching myself, so you can imagine how difficult my final 8 months were. All of my study habits and time management skills were useless for a semester of teaching yourself and drowning in the course material. For this exact reason, this is why I argue students in their final year have it significantly worse than first years.
First years knew they were signing up for a year of online school, a different look and rules for on-campus residences. Their very first experience in uni was online. Their learning curve from high school to undergrad was immediately adjusted to being online. I and many others, on the other hand, had multiple years of in-person adjusting to this format – to then switch online in our final semesters. A transition that was not easy.
My final year was anything but happy. For somebody who used to love school and learning, online uni became a chore to me. I dreaded logging onto a screen where I’d see black boxes and names, all of us unengaged. I could recite to you nearly everything I learned from my 1st through 3rd year. I cannot tell you one thing I’ve learned in my final year. I had three years of good study habits and finishing essays a week before their due date thrown out of the window. In my fall semester, I had 12 things due every single week. In an environment where I was now expected to teach myself, having 12 things due weekly made it incredibly difficult to retain any information. To put this into perspective, in my third year, I had 5 things due a month. Professors loaded coursework onto us and expected us to progress as well as we had in previous years. I paid for an education that I didn’t receive. Instead, my friends and I shared the same experience of writing a paper or quiz and immediately forgetting all the information we learned. We were merely moving through the motions than learning and enjoying the classes we were in and our final year. The only thing getting me through this year was that I was getting graduation to end this chapter of my life, right? Wrong.
Class of 2021 was not offered our June convocation, and we aren’t able to walk across the stage. Or anything to signify our completion of undergrad for that matter. Instead, we were sent an email inviting us to virtual convocation. First-year students don’t have it worse, students in their final year do. These students will likely be back in classes within a year, be able to walk across a stage, and live their university experience. My peers and I don’t get this opportunity. We had to say goodbye and cry over Zoom with our favourite professors, thanking them for a great undergraduate experience. This was a very strange experience. The first year in residence is not the only thing that makes your experience. Going to your campus’ pub does, homecoming does, walking across a stage does, connecting with peers and professors in class does. Partying in first year is not what makes your experience of university full.
For many of us graduating this year, we’re required to obtain references for jobs or post-graduate from our professors. How were we supposed to connect with profs and demonstrate our character behind a screen? How do they get to know us well enough in 12 weeks (one semester) to write this reference when it’s likely we didn’t have our camera on every single week? First years don’t have it worse. They have one small segment of their undergrad career that is different. They will create connections, go back to in-person classrooms, have a homecoming, and walk across the stage. March 13th, 2020 was the last time I had any of this.