M.W., 22, a student in Wayne, PA

The night before I left Stanford, I stayed up until three A.M. I would have stayed up even later, but thought it prudent to get at least a couple hours of shuteye before my 8:30 flight. After all, I was with people I wanted to lose sleep for. And if I had known that would be my last day of undergrad on campus, I probably would have pulled an all-nighter.

Most people who get to know me learn that I love sleep. No matter the difficulties I face during the day, I find solace in wrapping myself in warm blankets and closing my eyes. I sleep long and deep. Freshman year, when my roommate had a knee injury that woke her in the middle of the night, she somehow managed to wake me up so I could find our RA—but as soon as I did, I fell right back into a slumber so powerful that I had to be informed in the morning that five paramedics had been in our room.

I’ve only pulled one all-nighter in my life. It was for an 18-hour, overnight puzzle hunt freshman year, a contest between FloMo (my dorm) and Roble. I was part of a team of five, and we drove all over the Bay Area, finding clues from the Taco Bell in Pacifica to the Pixar studio in Emeryville.

It struck me that night, now three years ago, that I was so lucky to be part of a community that made me yearn for the power not to need sleep at all. Everything around me—the endless stream of amazing opportunities, events, classes, and most importantly, people—made me resent the very essential human activity that I cherished most.

Others have described, perhaps better than I can, the process of grief that many college seniors are going through right now. For a lot of us, it is not the same unimaginable grief felt by those who have lost loved ones to this pandemic. But it is grief nonetheless—a kind of hollow emptiness. To me, it has felt a lot like sleep deprivation—an oscillation between numbness and a longing, itchy-eyed emotional teeter-totter that seems to leave me in tears more often than I care to admit.

When I am at home, I sleep more restlessly than at school. Chalk it up to the cushy mattress topper I bought as a bewildered young dorm shopper, or to the endless stream of activities at Stanford that leave me absolutely drained by the time my head hits the pillow each night. But now, in quarantine, I am readjusting to my bed at home.

This has left me with a lot of time to think. I have mulled over seemingly insignificant details of Stanford life that I now miss so much—the collection of succulents on my windowsill, the carefully arranged postcards and posters on my dorm wall. I have even romanticized things I used to complain about—the way the duct tape on my bike handles used to leave my hands ever so slightly sticky after each ride, the taste of honeydew when it mingles with leftover tomato sauce on a rushed plate in the dining hall.

Memories like these remind me that nostalgia can be dangerous. Stanford was not a perfect experience. I was not happy there all the time, or even half the time, probably. In reflecting on my undergraduate experience, I do not want to perpetuate the ideas that already make Stanford such a difficult place to attend college. Duck syndrome is real and damaging.

But in order to make myself feel more whole—to find the solace that feels like a good night’s sleep—I find myself returning to all the fantastic things I did get to experience during my 3.66 years. My time was cut short, but it was still stuffed so full of incredible moments that I can scarcely believe I lived them all.

Late one night in my quarantine, I sat up, turned on the lamp, and made a list. I’ll name just a few entries from over two pages: I learned how to use an audio kit and interviewed a cave diver, a muralist, and an entomologist. I photographed elephant seals in Año Nuevo. I ate pie at the Pumpkin Festival in Half Moon Bay. I introduced a show live on KZSU. I rock climbed for the first time. I met a master falconer and held a red-tailed hawk. I spent the night at Monterey Bay Aquarium on a dorm trip. I spent a quarter abroad in Italy, a three-week Overseas Seminar in South Africa, and a summer in Arizona working for the Bill Lane Center for the American West. I played intramural volleyball one quarter, badly. I attended master classes run by Alice Walker and Neil Gaiman. I drove over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe I slept at all.

Along with my fellow members of the Class of 2020, I had a lot of dreams for my final quarter. In my imagination, it is perfect: a whirlwind of classes, parties, late nights spent talking and hugging, traditions and ceremonies to tie it all up in a bow.

Perhaps the hardest part of leaving it behind is realizing that, while we were staying awake, we had already lived so much of this surreal, waking dream. And these extraordinary circumstances shook us with a blaring alarm clock, a glass of water to the face. Just like that, we were severed from the world we had created for ourselves, with no chance to say goodbye.

I have never been a morning person. Perhaps it’s my natural affinity for the dream world, but this time, I really wanted five more minutes. Still, in creating this list—in stepping back and realizing how much joy and wonder I found in the time that I did have—I find myself filled with gratitude. I am grateful for the ways that our professors and administrators have recognized how painful this feels, communicated with us to learn about our diverse circumstances, and made whatever adjustments they could. I am grateful for our service workers who made it possible for me to live my life the way that I have, many of whom continue to help the University serve the students who remain. I am grateful for the physical spaces I was lucky enough to inhabit, and that I will hopefully be able to return to someday.

Most of all, I am grateful for this community—this ambitious, unfailing, insomniac community—for staying up with me.

[submitted on 4/27/2020]

Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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