I get sentimental around every school year’s end, and this time it’s no different.

I’m not sure why, either. I don’t feel like this year was particularly momentous or even all that enjoyable. No big life decisions were made, no thrilling once-in-a-lifetime experiences. If I’m being honest, it wasn’t the greatest year.

Pandemic aside, these two semesters brought a bundle of personal challenges. Many things that could go wrong did go wrong. Factor in COVID-19, too, and I’m sure many of you feel the same way. 

I think a lot of us could use a redo. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wipe these last 365 days from our memories and pretend it’s last April, except this time COVID-19 didn’t exist and all the other loose screws and stuck cogs in our own personal machines were tight and turning just fine?

But somehow I still think I’m going to miss this year.

I’m a firm believer that every hardship has some hidden lesson, some wisdom to be gleaned, and the kindest people have had their character shaped by the worst things. But would I relive any of this given the opportunity?

Absolutely not.

And yet, in a weird way, I think I’m going to look back fondly as my wiser, future self and see all my confusion and frustration as endearing. Maybe one day I’ll look back on younger me with a glow of relief and say, “Why was I so worried about that? Everything turned out just fine.”

Or maybe I’ll miss it because no matter how painful things are, life is constantly changing. You might as well be nostalgic for what you have now because it’ll be gone soon. In that way, the concept of missing the not-so-good starts to make sense. The things that are so characteristically this year — the classes I don’t like, the leak in my ceiling, the weepy phone calls to my mom in the middle of the night — are all worthy of being missed. Nothing ever stays the same, which is both the best and worst characteristic of life.

But I think what I’ll appreciate most about this year are all the things I know now, especially the ones I wouldn’t have learned without going through the sucky things first. I’m not sure if there are words I can use to make you realize these things like I do, but I’ll summarize a few in hopes you won’t need the experience to be your teacher too:

  1. We control so little of our lives. I grew more aware of this after each time I had hope for the year, watched it fall apart and tried with little luck to make things go my way. The older I get, the more life has thrown 180-degree turns and plot twists, and it’s made me realize that I’m not the master of my own destiny as much as I thought, and I have to be okay with that.

  1. Life is hard. Always. I used to have this picture in my mind of fully arriving as a human being to a place where I’d be fully wise and completely content. In this made-up scenario, I’d no longer struggle with the lifelong woes I’ve been working through since childhood, have every dream fulfilled and be the textbook example of perfect mental health. But I don’t think we’ll ever get there on Earth. This year, I’ve realized everyone has a burden they’re lugging around with them. There’s always going to be some difficulty, big or small, we’re wishing away, and there always remains the possibility that it will go away. But even if it does, something will run in to take its place not long after. Realizing life is hard might not seem encouraging, but I think there’s some small token of peace in accepting that.

  1. Nothing is wasted. I’ve always believed that there’s a purpose for everything. Sometimes it’s an inconvenient truth and I’d rather believe everything happened randomly, but this year I was thankful for that reality. After going through something difficult, I seemingly coincidentally connected with several people who needed healing from the same thing, and in those moments I felt like my tough year was not in vain.

Then again, there were plenty of beautiful things that happened in the midst of one of modern humanity’s bleakest years. Maybe those little glittering moments are the things I’ll miss.

Maybe, more than anything, I’ll remember the snow days in my neighborhood, the handwritten letters I received on a bad day, my 21st birthday or the friend who knew I was having a rough time so she committed to watching all the Harry Potter movies with me. I’m sure I’ll have nostalgic feelings about the house I live in with the flat roof that’s perfect for tanning, the walks around East Campus as the sun is setting, and even the mice who live in my basement.

Why do I miss things I didn’t enjoy at the time? I’m not sure why, but I do. This year is going away, and when it does, everything will be different. I wonder what I have this year that I’ll look back and wish I appreciated more.

To the 2020-2021 school year, you went completely different than how I thought. You were disappointing in a lot of ways, but I think I’ll look back on you fondly. But as my friend Robert Frost would say, nothing gold can stay. And, if I could edit his poem, I would pencil in that nothing dreary can stay either.

I have to say goodbye now, but I’ll think of you often.

And I’ll miss you,