Class of 2020: Grief, Gratitude, Growth

I always marvel at the talents of our student body. They are amazing artists, and athletes, and chemists, and entrepreneurs, and English majors, and so much more.

One of my Wake professor friends posted a link on their Facebook page to a blog written by one of their students. It is entitled Class of 2020: Grief, Gratitude, Growth, and is written by Alice Romanov (’20). Alice has given me permission to share her blog post here. It starts like this:

Jamie Anderson said, “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.

By sharing my words here, I try to give my love somewhere to go.

I love the idea of grief being love with no place to go. That is especially true right now, with so many of us loving Wake even as Wake is the place we are physically unable to go. Alice goes on to tell the story of how she learned, on a Wake Spring Break trip that included a disastrous camp site flooding, that students would not be able to return to campus. And her blog post walks through all the associated emotions that come with that realization, as well as a reflection of what she gained at Wake Forest:

Undeniably, the very best thing about college was the people: the close friends with whom I shared crazy times as well as mundane peace, the faces that made campus feel familiar and safe, the professors who believed in me and pushed me to grow. We all knew that one day all of this would end and this dense and beautiful web of social networks would evaporate. More than anything- more than landing the right job or moving to the right city- I was scared of losing this web- what Marina Keegan, a personal hero of mine, so beautifully called “the opposite of loneliness.” It was common knowledge that the months after spring break would be the time carved out for this tragic yet necessary transition. We tried not to get too sentimental before the finish line, because we thought we would have the ceremonies and the specially designated “lasts” for that. Little did we know.

She talks about Commencement – something so distant in students’ minds for years, now on the horizon. Unattainable in its original sense, but still beautiful:

Perhaps the strength of the gratitude now collectively felt by my fellow seniors is greater knowing the loss we’ve felt, that somehow this disruption in our designated path has created a stronger sense of love than we might have felt sitting out in robes on a sunny morning in May. By being alone during the time that was supposed to be spent together, we are finally starting to wrap our heads around the beauty that we had for the last few years, and perhaps how much we took it for granted. In the words of Marina Keegan, our social webs “make us feel loved and safe and part of something even on our loneliest nights” — and right now, this could not be more true. As I cozy up in front of my screen and collect Zoom friendship squares like stars in a jar, my heart swells with a special breed of gratitude.

So, Class of 2020, let’s remember that we’re not just the class of COVID-19. The nearly four years that we got were an indescribable and irreplaceable blessing. Like my dear friend Natalie so perfectly put it, this is the final expression of years of learning how to embody both definitions of Pro Humanitate— a sacrifice for humanity as well as a reminder of that which makes us human. This season of our lives has been exactly that: one of great sacrifice, great grief and gratitude, and a necessary return to our fragile humanness.

I encourage you to read Alice’s full blog post here. It’s really good. Might be especially helpful to your seniors who are living this.

There was a commercial a few years ago for some kind of chemo drug, and it had a woman in it who was presumably going through cancer treatment. She says something like “In life you take the bitter with the sweet. But I plan on finishing with more sweet.” That’s what Alice’s blog reminds me of – we take the bitter and the sweet together, and find the hope and beauty even in the tough times.

Stay strong and well, Daily Deacdom.

— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94) with a mighty big assist from Alice Romanov (’20)

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