Cars, college, the coronavirus created the illusion of my autonomy

I’ll be lenient. But in a way that I hope will matter to others besides me.

The end is here. I am writing this article in the penultimate week of my final semester of my undergraduate course. As a transfer student starting at USC in the fall of 2020, each semester of college felt a little different. Many things have changed over the course of my college career, from the country in which I first started college to the educational experience in general.

I have always been quite observant, with a strong ability to draw lines. I find my means of transportation to be good compared to how I feel right now. This semester marked the first time I had a car while at USC. In previous semesters, I always complained about what I would do with a vehicle, how much freedom it would give me. I have a running list of all the places I have yet to go, restaurants I have yet to try, parts of California I am dying to explore.

Yet now I find myself returning to the same places over and over again. The same restaurants, grocery store, and sometimes the same beach. This might make sense, as I’ve always been told I’m a creature of habit – much like my mother. Perhaps this is due to anxiety – at its core, it is a fear of what we cannot control. Structure and familiarity create the illusion of autonomous command that we so desperately lack in reality. Los Angeles County is supposedly my oyster, but my feet remain firmly planted in the same five places. I seem to often find myself trapped in a mental barrier of my own making.

I feel this is quite similar to the prospect of graduation. As I graduate from one of the most prestigious universities in the country, armed with a degree in communications that is colloquially said to allow you to pursue a variety of career paths, I find myself simultaneously frozen. Maybe it’s a fear of moving on – a simple pause while I move on to this next chapter in life and apply for jobs. Maybe it’s okay to graduate and not know what the hell I want to do with my life. But as I wrestle with all of this, I find myself stuck, set, unsure of what my next move will or should be.

I feel maybe kind of done with college. I’m definitely done with USC’s drinking culture. I don’t want to do homework anymore. And yet, I still don’t feel done. I feel somewhat out of touch with USC as a whole. Since transferring during the pandemic, there has been no tangible change to being a USC student. After a year of YouTube school outside the dull lit bedroom of University Gateway, I showed up one day and it was the start of junior year. Junior year felt like freshman year, and now that I finally feel like I’ve found my footing, it’s all coming to an end.

I don’t want to put words in people’s mouths, but I feel like most of this year’s graduates can relate; a sense of sorrow for what was lost and never to be again. We didn’t get to experience the college we worked so hard for, with all its resources and an interpersonal connection that, when covered by a screen or a mask, doesn’t feel the same. Change is terrifying no matter when or how it happens, but my impending change feels greater when paired with what could have been. This last year is the only one with complete normality—and there won’t be another.

I wouldn’t change any of the choices I made. Studying abroad gave me some of my closest friends, many of whom I still live with. Two of my randomly assigned roommates in Paris—all of us on the track to USC promised by the Trojan transfer plan—are now my roommates for all four years. It also gave me a strong sense of independence. Yet I wonder what, if anything, would have changed if college had not been disrupted, torn apart by the pandemic. If our capacity for complete normality and autonomy could be developed as it should.

As I (soon) approach graduation, I feel satisfied with what I have done, accomplished, experienced, and who I have become. Hopefully the world is now my oyster, I won’t shut myself up. I have faith, but as I said before, we cannot fully control what happens to us or our lives. Complete and utter autonomy does not exist, but there is strength in accepting that sometimes only time will tell. I hope I get there.

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