After a freshman year of virtual classes, I’ve gained a new appreciation for my college experience and the extra year I had at home. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the U.S. into lockdown in March 2020, like most people, I was stunned. I had no idea that this new virus would affect nearly every aspect of my life; but, nearly two years into the pandemic that has drastically changed so many lives, I have a new perspective and have come to accept the situation. 

For the high school class of 2020, many, if not all of us, had our senior year taken away. The pandemic meant no spring sports, prom or graduation. There was never a sense of closure for us. Other than a “drive-in” graduation in the parking lot of my high school, there was no real ending to this chapter of our lives before we all went our separate ways to various universities and postgraduate endeavors. 

Losing my senior year was a tough blow, but I remained hopeful and excited for a normal college experience. Being from Grand Rapids, MI, I was in love with the idea of moving across the country to go to school in Los Angeles. Despite how grim things got, I always told myself that it wouldn’t matter when I got to California. 

Then the email from APU came and sealed my fate. When I found out that the university had decided to go remote for the fall semester, I was crushed. There’s really no other way to put it. I had been waiting all year, looking forward to the gorgeous weather, new people and new experiences, but now I was told I would have to wait another year. 

Every emotion I felt — anger, sadness and confusion — was only made worse by the fact that my twin sister, Taylor, was able to go to school in-person at her university. As a fashion major at Central Michigan University, Taylor would move onto campus and experience a traditional freshman year experience. 

This moment was a real test for me. On one hand, I was happy for my sister and excited to see how college would change and shape her. On the other hand, I was jealous and didn’t understand why I wasn’t able to have this same experience. I had to learn to swallow my pride and just take joy in the fact that my sister was not bound to the same fate as me. 

The online learning experience was not a fun one. Trying to remain focused during classes and lectures was challenging when there were so many distractions available to me in my childhood bedroom. This was even more frustrating given the time zone difference between Michigan and California. Taking a business law class at 1 a.m. is about as fun as it sounds. 

There were many points in the semester where I simply lost motivation due to these circumstances. Taking online classes for a school I had only been to once was infuriating. I was close to giving up on school altogether. Then, a conversation with my father entirely changed my perspective. 

We talked about how life wouldn’t be the same when I finally left for school. My parents would be alone with our two dogs and no kids to look after. Realizing this, I felt a small pain in my chest. I never considered that my parents were thankful for the extra time we were given together, and in this moment I felt God on my heart. A wave of emotion washed over me and I felt refreshed, like God had taken all my stress and replaced it with joy.

As my dad and I were sitting on the back deck eating dinner and watching the sun set over the backyard, something in me changed. I looked at my family and felt an extreme sense of gratitude. I had always been close with my family, but this sensation was something different. My entire perspective towards my situation changed in an instant. Instead of sitting there feeling sorry for myself, I began to feel grateful for the extra time I was able to spend with my family. 

I started to look at my situation as something completely unprecedented. I didn’t want to waste this time. I began to cherish the little things like bringing in groceries with my mom, walking the dog with my dad and family dinners watching Sunday Night Football. All these little moments took on a new meaning and continue to hold a special place in my heart. 

My mental shift also affected my relationship with my sister. When I would drive up to her campus and visit her, I no longer felt a sense of jealousy. These negative feelings had shifted towards positive thoughts of joy for my sister. I started to appreciate the uniqueness of our situations, and I took comfort in knowing that our experiences would be different after years of being in the same classes at our small-town high school. 

I still feel the impact of this shift today and wholeheartedly believe that God intervened to change my thinking. Being across the country now is hard; but, rather than wallowing in sadness, I find comfort. I take pride in the fact that I have a loving family, and I’m in a position to make them proud with the hard work I put into every aspect of my life. 

Despite the ongoing pandemic, I remain forever grateful for the grace God showed to me on a cool September night in a small town in West Michigan.