In March 2020, I made the decision to move out of my flat in Bristol, where I was in my final year of an English and Classical Studies degree, and home to Morecambe for lockdown. I only lived with two other people in quite a small space, and I decided it would probably be easier and more comfortable being at home for such a stressful period. I was so sad to leave. I loved Bristol and living independently, and my friends and I had so many plans for how we were going to spend our final summer in the city that had become our home. It took me about a month of being in Morecambe to properly adjust and accept all of these drastic changes that had happened so quickly.
When term started up again after Easter, I was surprised by how easy many aspects of the transition to online working were. There were definite anxieties around our grades and what would be expected of us in terms of workload, but the university put in a ‘safety net’ which meant we wouldn’t be able to achieve a grade lower than our current average. They also significantly decreased our overall workload, which really helped. This didn’t necessarily make the period easy; there was a lot of work and I still had a dissertation and two other final essays to write, but it certainly did help to alleviate some of the pressures of the third (and final?) year.
The world during the first lockdown was definitely not an optimised working environment. I found not being able to access the resources I needed very frustrating, as a lot of books I required for research had not yet been made available online. As hard as our librarians were working, they just couldn’t handle the level of requests coming in for new e-books. To try and keep ourselves motivated, my friends and I set up online study sessions together where we would work with each other on Zoom. These were really helpful, but it did sometimes feel impossible to connect sitting in my room in Morecambe to me completing my bachelor’s degree. The qualification I had been working towards for the last two and a half years suddenly felt fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. This was quite hard as it was a massive anticlimax, but it was also slightly inevitable. My mum was working as a nurse and bereavement counsellor during lockdown so my worries were very much put into perspective!
A really positive thing that came out of this period was that it felt far easier to talk to my tutors.
Admittedly, it was more difficult to schedule appointments with them rather than just knocking on their office door, as organising an official Zoom meeting felt more daunting. However, when it came to pre-scheduled contact time such as seminars or tutorials, they suddenly seemed like ‘real people’ (I know, crazy) who were also struggling with this monumental shift in their lives. Conversations often drifted away from the course content and morphed into mini therapy sessions. The bizarre nature of the situation, alongside the many difficulties in transitioning to online, ‘work from home’ set-ups, were great equalizers. It’s pretty hard to find someone intimidating once you’ve heard them having to sort out their small child who has run in to their home office in the middle of an online lecture to announce, “Mummy, I am bored, and I need a wee”.
At the end of June, I had to go back to Bristol to move out of my old flat. It was quite odd to return to the city after such a long period away, and really emotional to see friends who’d stayed in Bristol during lockdown. One of the main things that had been hard to swallow was that our graduation ceremony had been cancelled. It felt like there was no opportunity to celebrate our achievements and gain a sense of closure from the last three years. However, the day before I was due to drive home, my flatmate announced that we were taking some time out of packing up the house to have our own ‘fake graduation’ ceremony. One of our friends had a good camera, and the rest of us got dressed up in whatever nice clothes we hadn’t yet shoved into a box. My flatmate made us our own ‘diplomas’, and we stood on the steps of our would-be graduation hall and held our own little (socially distanced, of course) ceremony. It was amazing. Even though it was in weird circumstances, it felt like the perfect end to uni.
Completing my degree during the coronavirus pandemic taught me a lot. I think I’m a very different person now than I was in March, or even if I had just graduated normally.
For one thing, I am far more technologically literate than I ever thought was going to be possible as a humanities student! I also learnt to appreciate things for what they are, not for what they might be. At the beginning of lockdown, I was stuck dwelling on ‘what if’s and ‘what could have been’. Whilst that was understandable, eventually I had to face reality head-on and make the best of the situation. I have had to become more resourceful, not only in how I conducted research for my degree, but also in how I connected with my friends. We didn’t have the option of just bumping into each other in a lecture or at the pub, and it took more work to make sure that people didn’t just drop off the radar. I also got better at self-discipline, as it was all too easy to just lay around all day watching Netflix rather than actually doing my work!
Despite all the challenges, I am still really happy with how my degree ended, and feel more than ready for whatever comes next. If I can handle graduating during Covid-19, I can handle anything!