As bright-eyed freshmen in the spring of our first year of college, our world was rocked with the news of a global pandemic which required us to return home for immediate evacuation. What was meant to be a week-long spring break turned into a year-long lockdown. Separated from new friends and cut off from the small taste of freedom we experienced in our fall semester, many from my class felt uncertainty about what the rest of their college experience would hold.
Each graduating senior has an individual story about how the pandemic shaped their college career. Some were unable to study abroad and others did not return to school at all. As I reflect on the past four years, full of unexpected trials and moments of redemption, I’m ultimately grateful for the community that I found through Point Loma Nazarene University. There is a strong sense of unity among my peers that may not have been there had the loneliness during the pandemic not been so extreme. After winter must come spring, and we bloomed even more fully as a result of our unique circumstance.
I returned to campus in the fall semester of my sophomore year. Campus living capacity was cut in half, each dorm was occupied by one person, Caf meals were put in to-go boxes and expected to be eaten in isolation, face-masks were a must at all times and classes were of course, held online.
Everything felt gray.
Vibrant memories of my freshmen year rivaled the seclusion I felt during that semester. The hallways that were once full of chaotic chatter and people going in and out of each other’s dorms now fell silent. The tree in Hendricks backyard that was once the home to dozens of hammocks was now stripped bare. I remember ping-pong matches in the ARC, bonfires at Garbage Beach, Bachelor watch-parties in the dorm lounge and intramural ultimate frisbee tournaments on Thursday nights. These were the activities and moments that made me fall in love with this university.
And there I was, alone in my room, my sophomore year, wondering if that feeling of freedom and life would ever return to me.
The beauty of that season was witnessing God’s redemptive power in the midst of hardship. During that semester, I clung to the verse found in Isaiah 43:18.
“But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”
I waited with hopeful expectation that God was going to redeem my college experience.
As fall transitioned to spring, I saw more life enter campus. It seemed as though everyone was desperate for connection. Everyone gathered outside to do homework together. We ate meals six feet apart. We gathered on Caf lane to do our zoom classes together. It wasn’t ideal, but it was a start.
Campus life felt brighter.
I remember the day when an email informed us that we would return to in-person chapel, now at two separate times depending on which dorm you lived in. Slowly after that, the campus seemed to breathe again. The Caf opened to the public, with limited seating and social distancing in place. More people were able to move on campus, making campus life more electric. College started to feel like college again.
Fans filled the stands at basketball games. Community ministries started to reconvene, which was when I joined the Bread of Life Homeless Ministry group. The Young Hall volleyball court was once again flooded with people eager to be outside and with each other. The lockdown made me realize that it’s not necessarily about what you’re doing, but who you’re doing it with. PLNU unknowingly provided the greatest gift anyone could ask for during a global pandemic, which is the gift of a small community.
While the pandemic undeniably altered my college experience, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it. It was during the pandemic when I met my best friends. It was while in lockdown when my relationship with God grew stronger.
The struggle brought on by the pandemic was real, but so was the unexpected redemption waiting on the other side.
Written By: Camden Painton