One of my last pre-pandemic memories occurred on March 12, the Thursday before my first year at California Polytechnic State University took an unexpected detour. After my last lecture of the day concluded, I headed to downtown San Luis Obispo where I met my brother and my grandpa to watch a concert- an experience that I undoubtedly took for granted at the time. I had no idea that the locally adored Fremont Theatre would not host another public event for at least another year. In fact, this would be the last time I would be part of a crowd at all for an indefinite period of time.
The following Sunday, I drove back home under the impression that winter final exams would all be online but school would resume as usual within a couple weeks. When I arrived at my family home in the tiny coastal town of Morro Bay, California, I had no idea what the future held for me. Like most college students, the pandemic would turn my life completely upside down. Suddenly I was no longer accompanying friends to concerts, dances, and sporting events but was instead confined to my own house. While I went into my first year of college not knowing what to expect, this is certainly not the way I had envisioned my college experience unfolding. Instead of meeting friends for burritos and studying together at the library late into the night, I was now only able to interact with them via text, zoom, or other digital mediums.
The first lesson that the pandemic taught me is to not take anything for granted. It has been said countless times that you do not know what you have until it’s gone. While it may be cliché, it could not be more true. I have learned to take advantage of every opportunity that I am given because nothing is really guaranteed. As humans, there are a lot of things that make us uncomfortable; however, these are often the most rewarding experiences. I firmly believe that the best way to get the most out of life is to spend as much time as possible outside of our comfort zones. As we move toward a post-coronavirus future, I also plan to be more grateful for the small things in life- like simply going to watch a soccer game or studying with friends. Previously, I would not have given a second thought to the importance of such activities but the last year has taught me the value of even the most apparently insignificant things.
The second lesson I learned from COVID-19 is that joy and beauty can be found in anything. Sometimes, it feels as though we have very little control over our own circumstances; this is certainly how I felt when the pandemic first started. While the lifestyle that I was forced to live during the pandemic did not fit my ideal first year in college that I had hoped for, I was able to maximize the circumstances in which I found myself. My free time was filled by surfing with my dad, taking our dogs walking on the beach with my family, kayaking in the harbor, hiking the surrounding mountains, and finding new ways to explore the outdoors. Most nights, my family and I watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean together. Simple experiences like this caused me to gain a much greater appreciation for my home state of California and for the beautiful world that we all live in. My life looks a lot different now than I thought it would if someone would have asked me about it a year ago. Yet, I am still grateful for all the nights I spent last summer playing board games with my family or watching low budget movies with my brother. Joy and excitement are not just found in the extravagant but also in the seemingly simple and mundane things in life.
While I certainly would not have chosen to enter a global pandemic if I was given the option, I would not have the same outlook on life that I now have if it were not for the coronavirus and its outbreak. I am not grateful for the virus itself, but I am definitely very grateful for the lessons that it has taught me. Life is ultimately a collection of our experiences, so we ought to make the most out of them- regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in and how discouraging they may seem.