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  • Julio Gonzalez

Coming Into Our New Year: A Reflection on Undergrad and COVID-19

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

First things first, I want to send 2021 off with a big GOODBYE. The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic and another chapter of my undergrad journey felt incredibly long and arduous. Each month of the year brought in new surprises (both pleasant and heartbreaking). Overall, I believe that everyone who has made it through this past year has undergone a great deal of growth, taking different forms. As we take our first steps into the new year, I want to take time to reflect on my personal development and our communal growth.

(The Rockefeller Christmas Tree in NYC set up near the end of the year)

I had the honor of being the second son born into a Dominican family (later becoming the middle child, I know what luck). Before I could even open my eyes, my family had been residents of a decently-sized apartment in The Bronx, the city’s most luxurious borough. Our apartment and the blocks surrounding it became my reality, being as it had everything we needed. Due to my young and minimal perspective, I believed that New York City encompassed the whole world and thus had significant importance to me.

Up until my senior year of high school, there was no real reason to leave The Bronx. My first opportunity to do so came when college acceptance came knocking on my door. The idea of heading off far into the distance for school sent shivers down my spine, so I kept my top choices relatively close to home. One of these choices was Vassar College, which was kind enough to pay for my two-day visit the month before decisions were due. Long story short, this trip allowed me to see a world outside of the enormous buildings and rats of NYC, alongside a gorgeous campus. After the trip came to an end, my decision was apparent.

In addition to being an institution that promotes critical thinking and building inclusive spaces, Vassar allowed me, a student who had known nothing but The Bronx, to broaden his horizons. In my first year, I came across many different walks of life from across the country and even internationally. It made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself. A feeling that is not easily replicated. However, this new sensation didn’t last as long as I had hoped due to a virus on its way.

(The flower circle in front of Main Building, Vassar College)

If you were anything like me, I jumped straight into my spring break (March 2020) and didn’t have a care in the world. Unfortunately, the carefree nature that had carried me through so many breaks in the past was shut down very quickly. Around a week after getting home, the amount of Covid cases started to spike dramatically. If the news wasn’t enough to make folks worried, the constant sound of ambulances outside one’s window was. It was a wake-up call for us all. No one knew how to respond at first.

Off the top of my head, I remember being told that the Spring semester would be completely remote. The nerves started to set in. I have seen advertisements for online schooling but never thought it was for me. With three students in the house, we each had to pick our forts for our engaging seminars/classes. While my siblings preferred the comfort of their rooms, I have always found it easier to work in the kitchen. It was a place where all of my distractions were not in plain sight. The adjustments took quite some time, but we made it work. If you are reading this, we all made it work.

Since I had all the time in the world once summer came along, I decided to dive deeper into my hobbies:

  • Listening to new music

  • Watching new shows with my brother

  • Spending countless hours on video games

At first, it seemed like a dream to do what I enjoy all the time, but it left me yearning for more. It took me a while, but I ended up implementing new routines into my life:

  • Working out at home.

  • Reading literature that friends recommended to me.

  • Tackling challenging puzzles with my sister.

These activities encompassed the earlier months of the pandemic for me. It allowed me to keep in touch with my friends and family, some of which I had not personally connected with in a long time.

That was the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years later, we are amidst the third variant’s rise in cases (Omicron). Most of us thought that this would have been over by now. I know I did. Regardless of how dire it may seem, there have been many changes since the start of the pandemic: how schools operate, how workplaces operate, political shifts, and medical advancements. Time and time again, we have demonstrated as a community that we can fight and survive against the coronavirus. It is still surreal to think of how far we have come over two years.

While it is essential to be living in the moment, it is equally as important to reflect on ourselves and our communities over the last couple of years. So these are the following prompts that I have used, and you can use to reflect:

  1. What are new routines that you have incorporated into your life?

  2. What spaces have you sought comfort in during the pandemic?

  3. How did you get through moments when feeling unmotivated?

  4. When looking back, what are the moments you are most grateful for?

  5. What are the moments that you are most proud of when looking back?

  6. Have any of your relationships grown over the last two years?

  7. How have your priorities changed?

  8. If you could go back in time, what wisdom would you leave yourself?

These are just a few questions to guide your thinking. The beauty of reflection is that it can take any form. There is power in being able to learn from yourself!

Julio Gonzalez VC '22 will receive his Bachelor of Education degree from Vassar College this May. He is passionate about transforming higher education accessibility. He participated in The Macfarlan Group's Social Impact Summer Internship Program in Nashville making his mark during the summer of 2021 working at Persist Nashville.

(Photo background Gordon Dining Hall Vassar College)

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