CAMPUS LIFE COVERED THE SPECTRUM
The first time I stepped foot on campus, all I could see was gray. Granted, my freshman orientation was in the middle of June, and San Diego has long been known for its June gloom. “It gets better, I promise,” my orientation leader told my skeptical group.
The first time I saw UC San Diego with my own eyes as an 18-year-old high school graduate, I hated it. It wasn’t just the sky that was gray. It was the buildings, the dorms, the hallways. As we ambled through Ridge Walk for our brief campus tour, I wondered how a campus that was almost 2,000 acres in size could be constructed entirely of concrete and sharp edges.
My orientation leader was right. The sun started peeking through the sharp edges when I moved in during the month of September 2017. Library Walk, which had been almost deserted when I last saw it, was pulsing with life. The voices were vibrant, inviting, intoxicating. Everyone wanted me to be involved. Everyone was excited. That made me excited.
With time, I began to find little cracks of color seeping through the gray. There were reds and greens in my professors’ slides during lectures. There were pinks and neutrals in the tones of my club members during our weekly meetings. There was a spot of blue if you tilted your head to look at the little house perched on top of the engineering building. And just across the way, the neon lights of the Stuart Arts art piece on the Center for Memory and Recording Research shot through the darkness of the night.
But the biggest reason I grew to love the campus was because of the people I would see every day. Hustling to class to make it for clicker points in the nick of time, stopping by a coffee shop for a quick caffeine buzz, walking with friends to one place or another. Not people I always knew, but students just like me. Trying to make the most of the time they had on the campus they called their home.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the colors I had grown accustomed to seeing slowly drained away. I used to love standing on the third floor of Geisel Library during passing period and peering over the edge to look at the flow of life underneath. You couldn’t see a single cobblestone on Library Walk, just a mass of students ebbing and flowing, the arteries pouring life into the campus gray. At the end of March 2020, right as everything was closing down, I stood on the third floor for the last time before I graduated. I could see the cobblestones again, and I knew nothing would be the same.
The pinks and neutrals of weekly club meetings became the familiar, colorless drone of Zoom gatherings that finished in half the usual time because the lively chatter was gone. Instead of seeing friends’ faces on the walk to class, I saw them through a camera screen. During the pandemic, we were isolated. We felt alone. The gray was back.
The past year has been a whirlwind blur for me — and I’m sure for many other students as well. We didn’t have much time to react. We were just forced to adapt. We didn’t have our annual events to look forward to. No Sun God, no Bear Garden, no Senior Send-off, no commencement.
I didn’t see any spark to reignite our student body until the civil unrest that rocked our country in the Summer of 2020 rose up to grip students of our own community. I saw these students stand, speak out, walk on the streets. I saw other students join in solidarity, offering to help. I saw students demand for justice. I was there. I wrote about it for the campus newspaper, and I saw the spark spread.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, students began to realize that maybe good grades weren’t everything that constituted a solid higher education. In our own quarantine bubbles, we wrestled with other demons. Depression and anxiety settling in during isolation. Family members and friends affected by the coronavirus. The loss of an entire year of their college education. As we navigated a roller coaster of emotions, we remained steadfast. We realized that our college experience was not just measured by the events we went to or the number of A’s on our transcript. It was measured by the memories we carried of the people who most mattered to us. So we kept finding ways to learn, to adapt, to grow. We kept looking for the color in the gray.
We set up our own Zoom movie and game nights. We watched livestreamed concerts with our friends. We sent letters through snail mail. We picked up new hobbies, found new shows to watch. We still graduated and held remote celebrations. We persevered.
Four years after I first set foot on campus, my in-person commencement ceremony was limiting and bittersweet. My family and friends could not be there, due to COVID-19 protocols. I missed them. But I knew they were watching on their screens somewhere, still celebrating with me. Even in the remote pandemic landscape, we students still figured out a way to be there for one another in spirit.
In my four years at UC San Diego, I voted in my first election, witnessed protests firsthand, made friends to last a lifetime and experienced a global pandemic. My college experience can be summed up in a rainbow of colors. And the greatest lesson I will always take away is the ability to find color in any shade of gray, regardless of where I find myself.