Today, I received the dresses I had ordered for my senior pictures with friends. It was our freshman year when we learned about the tradition at Washington State University of gathering friends, dressing up in cap and gown, and going across campus to favorite spots to remember and mark our college years. Before spring break, we had heard about the spread of COVID-19 and what was happening in distant countries, not thinking it would reach Washington state and upend lives. We never imagined it would strip away our final months of campus classes and our last celebrations as college seniors.

The final months at WSU are tradition-filled. A senior brunch, senior awards, class parties and those last dances. It’s a time in our lives that we approached with excitement, yet knowing, too, it would be bittersweet as we prepared to leave a home we have known for four years. How are we to feel now that those traditions have been canceled? Without realizing it, the last moments in our college career had already happened. We just didn’t know it at the time.

The quarantine has brought people closer. In Pullman, some neighbors have returned in this online school era while other houses sit empty. We have talked more with those here in the last month than the whole year. A high school teacher and two friends now have weekly Zoom chats, catching up on the past, pondering the future. I know it is a hard time for so many people and families, but the unity is amazing.

As I look back at college, I am happy I chose WSU. It provided new perspectives, great opportunities and an amazing education, and it prepared me for the future. I found best friends for the rest of my life, professors who taught valuable lessons, and a tiny little circle of a town I will forever call home.

On April 20, I celebrated my 22nd birthday. My birthday is a day I love to celebrate with friends and family. Luckily, I was able to do just that. My parents surprised me with a visit from the sidewalk, sitting on chairs sipping wine about 15 feet away while we enjoyed our porch swing. Friends bought a Slip N Slide and a tiny pool to bask in the sunny Pullman weather. I want to be grateful in this weird time. I am grateful for the people in my life, our health and the love shared with me. It is all the little things that really matter.

On May 9, seniors were supposed to walk in our commencement ceremony, finalizing college years and launching us into our future. For many peers, plans have changed. Job offers have been rescinded. Graduation trips canceled. And some do not know when they can go home. I had a scholarship for a program in Austria where I planned to interview for jobs in Europe. Now I will be moving home with my amazing parents, figuring out next steps. I do not know what will happen, but I have a good feeling everything will work out. And I will always remember to celebrate as if it is my last.