Navigating the pandemic as a college student

This article was written by Gracen Goudy. Gracen is currently a junior at Ouachita Baptist University, where she is pursuing a major in Mass Communications and minors in Graphic Design and Christian Studies. She is from Benton, Arkansas and attends Geyer Springs First Baptist Church.

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” -Psalm 34:1

This was the Psalm I was memorizing when I was sent home in March from my sophomore year of college. My semester was fueled by a newfound passion for scripture memorization. In January, I picked three different Psalms to memorize throughout the semester not knowing how much they would intertwine throughout my life. When I was dragging and not feeling motivated to spend time with the Lord, Psalm 84 was first on the list. Psalm 16 was next, right when I was feeling like I could do life on my own. Then came Psalm 34…at a time where I wanted nothing less than to praise the Lord at all times. 

I was excited to spend time with family, but quickly kept wishing for my college life back. I felt cut short of the late nights I had playing games and spending time with friends. I felt anxious now having to transition academically to online learning while maintaining the grades I desired. I felt stripped from the ministries I was a part of and doing life with some of my favorite people. Along with the rest of the world, college students had things abruptly removed from their daily routines and everyday lives. How that time was spent ranged from struggling hard to find contentment and joy to making the most of their time and using it to reconnect with the Lord. Being home longer than expected also allowed for more meaningful relationships with family members. 

As August approached, students wondered if in-person learning would even be an opportunity for the upcoming semester. Fortunately at Ouachita Baptist University, students headed back for a 100-day semester not knowing if all 100 days would be completed in-person. In order to keep students and faculty safe, everyday life was social distanced and required masks. A positive test or an exposure to the virus required a trip back home for a two week quarantine. Not only did students question the entirety of the semester, but also its normality. 

One of my favorite things about Ouachita, and college in general, is the abundance of activities that are offered across campus and within the community. Just like any other setting this year, things looked a lot different. Annual large events were canceled, but others were created in moderation for students to still interact and get involved. Universities did a great job keeping students safe and creating guidelines to continue a close to normal education. Many Ouachita favorites like WOW orientation week, Tiger Tunes and Refuge were redesigned in order to provide a college experience for students in a safe and exciting way. I am so thankful to go to a university that worked so hard not only to keep students safe but also tried to maintain normality and a memorable semester.

While this worked to create a more normal semester, it also brought about additional anxieties. My desire to be as involved as I could be conflicted with what was socially acceptable. Do I risk my chance to stay at school with being involved and potentially increasing my exposure? I want to stay and get the most of my education, but how much of that can I do? The carefree outgoing atmosphere that filled the university was exchanged for one that felt like walking on eggshells. This four year experience that I looked forward to my whole life, one that I cherish, began to feel very regulated and limited. There was a thankfulness to be continuing my education mixed with the fear of it being taken away at any given moment. 

Breaks were limited and travel was discouraged in order to keep people safe. There was always a fear of going home to visit family for the weekend and unknowingly bringing the virus along with me. Not only that, but the lack of breaks caused motivation to dwindle and difficulty pushing to the end. 

Similar to every person walking through this pandemic, college students took on additional anxieties and difficulties on top of their regular workload. For me, this past semester has been a great experience despite the limitations and anxieties. Even more so as a believer, I know that I can take these anxieties to the Lord and He is faithful to take them upon himself. 

I went into the semester questioning if I would be able to do the things that made me love college so much or even get to hang out with that many people. My greatest realization throughout the adjustments and difficulties that the pandemic brought upon the semester is the value of people and not the events that take place. This semester I grew so much closer to those I live with and my peers. Not leaving the dorm room as much created space for deep meaningful conversations that most likely would not have taken place at a sports event. Memories were created watching scheduled reality television shows and creating our own fun. Sundays were spent having dorm church and bringing one another into our spiritual lives. The isolation that is associated with this pandemic pushed me to assume that it would drive us all away and create distance between one another. The opposite was true as a bond was created that we all now share having gone through the same thing together. 

Looking back at the semester and looking forward to the next, I know that I can bless the Lord at all times. His  praise can continually be in my mouth whether I feel like it or not because of the way He has been faithful during my college years. There were so many doubts of if college would resume at all let alone in-person. This semester became a testament of His faithfulness and sovereignty. The Lord wanted our semester to resume and for us to experience college, so He made a way when we did not think it was possible. He kept students and faculty safe with minimum outbreak. Where there was destruction of expectations, He brought about newfound joys. In the loss of normality, He created space for deeper community. In an anxiety filled atmosphere, He provided peace at just the right time. 

Entering into the next semester, college students still need encouragement and prayers. Pray for a continued commitment to our studies despite an unusual learning environment. Pray for wisdom and contentment as we do life together. Pray for safety and good health. And pray that our utmost desire is to bless the Lord at all times and that we continually praise Him.

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