By Isabel Callahan (Dec. ’21)
Strange. In reflecting on what experiencing my final semester at Pomona College has been like, strange is the word that comes to mind. I hesitate in using the word strange, for I worry the word comes with a negative connotation, and while the strangeness of my semester has sometimes been bittersweet, so too has the strangeness been lovely. With that hesitation in mind, I want to clarify: I use the word strange here as synonymous with “unfamiliar” or “unexpected.” For, despite having spent nearly one and a half years on Pomona’s campus and nearly three years as a Pomona student (I am a transfer student), much of this semester has felt like diving into situations, classes, and settings that are unfamiliar to me.
First for the bittersweet strange. I am a second-semester senior at Pomona, graduating in December of 2021. Originally part of the Class of (May) 2021, I took a semester off last year due to COVID-19 to work remotely. Many of my friends, however, graduated in May of 2021 and are now in the swing of post-Pomona life. Not spending my final semester at Pomona College with them has been both an unexpected and unfamiliar experience. When I was a junior at Pomona College, I envisioned a picturesque image of what my senior year would look like: living with the same suitemates and friends I had junior year, working on my thesis throughout the year alongside other students majoring in PPE (Philosophy, Politics, & Economics), going on fall and spring break trips with friends, rejoicing and participating in all of the senior-year activities.
Due to COVID-19, though, this version of a senior year did not play out as I had expected. I imagine the same is true for many of my Class of 2021 peers (as well as members of other class years). I feel fortunate to be able to experience one more semester on campus. Being back on campus without the complete Class of 2021 has still been strange, though – a strangeness I want to recognize, so as to also pay gratitude for the way the members of the Class of 2021 have been an integral and wonderful part of Pomona.
Now for the lovely strange. This semester has been filled with new classes, opportunities, and hobbies that have engaged me in activities and ways of being previously unfamiliar to me. I am taking my first acting class as well as my first computer science class, writing for Pomona’s admissions blog, and taking guitar lessons (a truly humbling experience). These endeavors have been strange to me in the most wonderful ways: learning to release inhibitions and perform in front of people; learning a new language (Python); writing words people other than my professors and I might read; stretching my fingers to reach guitar chords in ways that at first feel unnatural. The strangeness has been good, challenging me to step outside of my comfort zone.
Some of the strangeness has even involved a return to activities and settings that feel unfamiliar due to the pandemic conditions of COVID-19. I went from seeing the same few people in quarantine to now eating meals with different friends every week and being in classes with often unfamiliar faces. Being surrounded by so many people after quarantining has felt like a social adjustment. Particularly at the beginning of the semester, I felt like I was relearning how to socialize and attempting to catch up with people about how the last two years have been. How strange and lovely it’s been to see and spend time with more people once again.
This semester hasn’t been completely strange, though. Pomona College is itself familiar in fundamentally lovely ways. Marston Quad is as beautiful as I remember, if not more. My peers are friendly and bright, and the familiar faces of faculty, staff, and professors I’ve known before have been a welcomed sight. There is also a familiarity to the kinds of things being back at Pomona induces: a deepening of friendships, reflective thought. As a graduating college senior, I am thinking more about what I hope my life looks like, post-Pomona, and how I might go about creating this life for myself. I think about what kind of community my own skills, disposition, or interests might be useful to and about the kind of person I hope to be. I realize this may always be an ongoing conversation with myself. Yet that feels like a familiar space to occupy, most of all at Pomona: in conversation of some kind.
As I reflect on my final semester at Pomona College, I am most of all deeply grateful. Though strange might be a word that comes to mind when I think of this time, gratitude is the primary feeling. I am grateful to spend time with friends, known and new to me, and to have one last semester of in-person college. In taking time away from classes and campus last year, I realized once again what a unique environment college is and am enjoying this stretch of life in all its moments of familiarity and strangeness.