For many 18-year-olds in this country, the pandemic has brought a one-two punch of school-based disappointments — first, the sudden end of senior year in spring, which stole the chance for goodbyes, proms and high school graduation ceremonies, and now, the bizarre and virtual kickoff of college, leaving many students glued to laptops in their childhood bedrooms rather than beginning the on-campus independence they’d been looking forward to for years.
“Not experiencing those milestones? Honestly, it hurts. It hurts so much,” Olamide Babayeju, 18, of Chicago, tells Yahoo Life. She had been planning on attending the University of Southern California to study business administration but is instead learning remotely, from home. “And there are nights when I was like looking at the wall, I wanted to cry — I did cry — but I think you just have to, like, reflect and… be like, ‘OK, I'm lucky. I'm still alive. I have a house and a roof over my head. I have food on the table.’ …You just have to have that mindset.”
Still, Babayeju adds, “There was that lack of closure. I sometimes still feel like I'm stuck — like, I’m still at my parents’ house at 18. I should be in California, but I'm not.”
To reflect on the unexpected challenges that college student are facing this year, Yahoo Life spoke with incoming college freshmen from the BUILT BY GIRLS community — a resource that aims to prepare female and non-binary students for careers in technology, through professional mentors, supportive events and virtual connection spaces (and which shares a parent company, Verizon Media, with Yahoo Life). The young women — Ethar Hussein, a computer science major at the University of Illinois Chicago, living in Palos Hills, Ill.; Olivia Kris, a computer science major at the University of California Berkeley, living in Los Angeles; Shehneel Ashraf, a computer science major at Rutgers University, living in Avenel, N.J.; and Babayeju — spoke frankly about hopes, fears and disappointments, all through a lens of positivity and resilience. Below (and in the above video) are highlights of our conversations.
On the lack of closure that came with high school’s abrupt end
Hussein: “At first I was kind of upset that I didn't get to have, like, a full graduation — you know, walking across the stage and receiving like my diploma. But I mean, I was with my family, and I was able to celebrate with my closest friends. So, I was just grateful for that.”
Babayeju: “There was no graduation, there was no prom. It was kind of just like, ‘OK, you guys are done for the time being.’ And then we just got a notification that, like, we’re never going back, and we're just going to have to graduate online. I didn't get the chance to say goodbye to my high school friends or my teachers or counselors that supported me along this whole journey… I was pretty shocked. I was just in my house, like, ‘no, this isn't real. We're going to go back next week.’”
Ashraf: “High school immediately was just super-weird… trying to, like, navigate how to learn by yourself, basically. Because some teachers just kind of assigned the work and we were just responsible for learning it on our own, or at most going to office hours and asking questions. But yeah, it was definitely different and not what I expected.”
Biggest worry or loss about remote college learning
Hussein: “My biggest fear is not being able to, like, meet my standards for my grades or my GPA. In class it's easier to attend office hours and ask the professor questions… and at home, it’s more like, how am I going to ask you? That’s something that I'm really concerned about is my grades.”
Babayeju: “I was looking forward to just, like, meeting people from different countries, different areas. People who speak different languages… and just like being in that community and joining clubs with people who are like-minded in the sense that they enjoy what you enjoy. Because in high school, you’re in this bubble…surrounded by the same people for four years.”
Kris: “My biggest fear about doing my first year remotely is just not getting the support that I need. And maybe being a little bit harder online. In-person you have office hours… and with Zoom, it’s a little more complicated, because you might have technological issues. There’s a lot at this point that is super uncertain… and that’s kind of what worries me.”
Ashraf: “I was very excited to be making friends and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, but it’s going to be a bit hard to do that now… [And the] fear of starting college remotely is that I won't be able to learn the same. When I’m in class, I love to ask questions… I like learning from someone else and, like, bouncing ideas off each other. I don't think I'll be able to do that online when we're all like separated.”
On facing mental health challenges that have come with the pandemic
Hussein: “I actually started, like, gaining some hobbies. I love to paint. I'm trying to do, like, a wall of canvases [that] represents who I am and what I like. I painted a Kit-Kat logo the other day and… that brought me back to my childhood because…my sister always had a Kit-Kat chocolate bar with her. She’d break a piece and just give me one. So, I just like having a wall of art, canvases and painting. It’s very therapeutic and relaxing, too.”
Kris: “I definitely had some mental-health struggles during this quarantine. Mine came sort of at the end of June, like right after graduation. There was just a lot going on and, like, trying to figure out, ‘OK, what happens next? It seems like this isn't going to go away.’ What that manifested into was just me feeling a little bit hopeless about the future.” But at the same time, she adds, “Over the summer, I was a TA at a camp called Kode with Klossy — a camp for girls 13 to 18, and the CEO is Karlie Kloss, who would just teach them introductory code and everything… That really brought me out of the little funk I was in just cause I felt like, OK, there's still things to look forward to.”
Ashraf: “It was definitely hard at first, not being able to leave your home and not see anyone. And I just don't think I really understood everything. Like, I knew that I wouldn't be going back to school… or having any of those experiences that I was really hoping to enjoy, but I hadn’t really processed it. I just kind of kept myself busy… It’s definitely a struggle.”
Feelings around being at home with parents, and how they think their parents feel about the change
Babayeju: “My parents were actually not happy that I was staying home and I was surprised, because for the last four years [they’ve said], ‘Oh, we are gonna miss you.’ …[But my mom] wanted me to have that experience.”
Kris: “My parents [are sad] about me missing the traditional college experience. But I think they're glad to have me around… There is a silver lining to staying at home, definitely, besides just saving a lot of money: I have, like, support from my parents. It’s nice to have a support system at home.”
Ashraf: “They’re happy I'm still home. I’m still, like, their little girl, all the cliché stuff. I won't be really putting myself in any dangerous [situations, you know, I'll just be home. So I think they're excited about that. I’m not as happy as I would have been.”
Video produced by Stacy Jackman
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