I knew entering into my senior year at Loras in the face of a pandemic was not going to be easy. It was hard not to reflect on all that I would be missing, and ultimately, not knowing when any of it would return to normal. A lot of anxiety seeped in before the year even started. Will we be sent home again? Will there be job openings after graduation? Will I get to see any of my friends on campus? All of these thoughts crept into my mind daily, and in talking to classmates, I discovered they crept into theirs also. The COVID class of ’20 may not have had a normal end to their year, but the silent consensus for us seniors was that we may not get a normal year at all, and the uncertainty has been disheartening.
While at Loras, my family and personal life have seen many hardships around losing the ones we love. I have lost my grandfather, uncle, aunt, and grandmother all in the span of these last two years. It has taken a major toll on me and has been an extra weight to carry. When entering this year and thinking about all the sacrifices I would have to make, I was reminded of the many sacrifices others have made for me, and specifically, the sacrifices made by those family members we recently lost. Ultimately, I have survived this academic year and enjoy its many blessings that come in different forms. It has been a great year, and I owe it all to the lessons I have learned from these lost loved ones that I hold so dear to my heart.
History will want to know what it was like being a student during these times. How were zoom classes? How did you survive without going to the bars? Was everything really six feet apart? While all of these details are interesting, the things that last, which carry on through history, are the lessons learned and the aspects of humanity that define and build character, those elements that ultimately make us who we are.
My grandfather served overseas in World War II and ultimately lived a life of sacrifice without complaint. The entire generation of people from that time sacrificed their lives in different ways, knowing that they need not complain but instead acted out of duty and out of concern for those around them. Upon remembering my grandfather, I have been reminded of these important values, which have helped me this year at Loras as I have been reminded that my sacrifices are not for myself but are for those around me.
My grandmother was a survivor of the global disease known as polio. At a young age, she understood the importance of isolation and distancing. Having survived, she lived the rest of her life only able to use a single arm, as polio often disabled body parts of those it infected. Later on, she had five girls, survived cancer, and taught students for more than thirty years. My grandmother’s strength is my ultimate motivation each day to pursue through any hardships that might arise, of which COVID has brought plenty. Remembering her strength has inspired me to remember there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and that we can make it through anything.
My uncle, a veteran as well, taught me the absolute importance of tender love and patience. Growing up, I was always comforted and greeted by his soft smile and humble attitude. It is this type of love that makes anyone feel comforted, no matter the situation, no matter the place. Today, we live in such a fast-paced society and having been slowed down and interrupted by COVID. We can often find ourselves short-tempered and agitated. I know this has certainly been true for myself, but my memory of the tender love and patience showed by my uncle has helped me to slow down and live in the moment. I am reminded each day of the importance of showing love to others in these difficult times and ultimately being patient with the world around me.
My aunt lived a life of always giving and always loving. She dedicated herself to helping children with special needs and always gave her time and effort to those who needed it most. My aunt is a big reason why I even chose to attend Loras in the first place. While it may not have been God’s country, the University of Iowa, she saw Loras for its ability to create active learners, reflective thinkers, ethical decision-makers, and responsible contributors, all of which she valued greatly. My biggest pain will be not having her present at graduation, but I know that I will continue to be reminded of her generosity and concern for helping others. I have come to realize that this global pandemic has greatly impacted many people. My generosity and ability to help others are of extreme importance. My aunt’s love for helping others has inspired me to put others before myself during this time, which has helped give me purpose during the pandemic academic year. It is vital for all of us to remember this as we are stewards of God’s creation and are ultimately here to help those around us.
This year has certainly been different from my previous three. I came in expecting the worst but was instead surprised to be met with a Loras experience like no other. The values I have obtained from my family members have helped me live out this year with a different lens, and have seen purpose and growth unmatched to my previous three years. It can often seem dull to attend college through Zoom and have many campus events canceled, but this year has offered so much more than I ever expected. Remembering the lessons from my family has helped me appreciate all the blessings that have been offered and take advantage of every opportunity allowed during these times. It has been most meaningful for me to know that the sacrifices being made this year are not barriers holding me back but are instead opportunities to clear a path forward for others. The supposed worst year of my college experience has been my most giving and fulfilling year at Loras, and I owe it all to the values of the community and the lessons learned from the lives of my lost loved ones.