Voices of students fill the halls, Red Square is crowded during seemingly random increments during the day, we hear the bells chime from real classrooms. As we make our way back to our for-now normal, we are greeted by what was left before the pandemic, and reminiscing on the catacomb of normal we created during our hybrid semester.
Kate Dobson, PhD., came back to a Free Press issue that spent the pandemic academic year soaking in the sun, its front page yellowed like over-buttered movie theatre popcorn. The March 2020 article above the fold read: “McDaniel takes precautions against coronavirus.”
Professor Vanessa Flora-Nakoski discovered some plants, left to their own devices over the hybrid semesters, in her office, dried and wilted. But Susan, the always resilient plant, is still alive and well. Flora-Nakoski and many others returned to collections of mugs, sweetened coffee grounds solidified at the bottoms.
The pandemic year was a year spent getting older, changing shapes and shoe sizes (yes, if you don’t wear shoes for a year, your shoe size may actually change), getting more gray hairs and finding new goods to bake and styles to make coffee.
We turned breaking bread into breakout rooms, between-class small talk into Zoom chats. Our lackluster dorm fridges and break rooms became kitchens, stocked with snacks and our latest internet inspired creations, waiting to be rushed to between classes.
Introverts felt at home in the comforts of their quiet room, students who might not have spoken up in class could type up a response in the Teams chat, free from hesitation, and people could offer wrong answers behind the shields of profile pictures. Professors miss the ease of having students break into Teams channels and type quickly into chats, not adding another piece of scrap of paper to the recycling bin.
There was something to love about our adapted classroom spaces and the nooks we logged into them from – calls taken from trees, boats, across state lines; makeshift desks in places never meant to be classrooms.
While many of our familiar comforts have been left in our bedrooms, living rooms and home offices, there are still some that we can expect to find at our home on the Hill – mugs of tea heated up in dorm microwaves, the pretend warm flickers of a faux fireplace in the Writing Center, study areas as living rooms and family game nights in the shape of trivia and bingo.
We have to remember now to bring our lunch, because the kitchen is no longer five steps away, and do laundry some time not during our classes or workdays. We are reminded every day that we can socially interact on the Hill, and do it well, with our professors, peers, colleagues, friends.
Professors return their IKEA bags of books back to their offices, students (maybe) change out of their pajamas to attend class, administrators recollect lost memories of door codes and extension numbers; we all sweep dust from abandoned desks, refresh our coffee cups and flip the page to a new calendar year – it feels like we’re really back.
And we don’t want to miss a moment.