Burnout — a state of emotional, mental, and physical collapse caused by stress — is a normal part of the college experience. However, over the last two semesters, fatigue has escalated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, creating new learning systems and economic anxieties. These factors have left students worried and exhausted in trying to navigate situations with no concrete understanding of how to handle them. I can only speak for myself, but I believe my experiences will resonate with many other students as well.
One of the biggest causes for my burnout stems from thinking about life after college. With each passing day bringing me closer to graduation, I have feelings of fear and anxiety rather than hope and excitement. There is no roadmap for navigating a post-COVID-19 world, and the only option is to go through it blindly. Over the past year, many recent graduates are losing jobs and internships due to the drastic changes companies must make to stay operational. If those people with hands-on work experience are losing jobs, what hope do I have if I don't graduate for another two years? Many companies expect their prospective employees to have prior experience, and it feels like that opportunity has been stolen from me. There's no one to blame but myself if I had the chance and failed. However, to never have been given the opportunity in the first place is extremely frustrating.
To some readers, it may appear that I am just whiny and all my generation knows how to do is complain. Except, older generations have given us the blueprint on how to be successful, and for the most part, we have followed that plan. The formula was to get a high school diploma, go to college, graduate and then life becomes a cakewalk from there because the hard part is over. I don't necessarily agree with that lifestyle in terms of self-fulfillment, but I follow it anyway because it is one of the few things that guarantees upward mobility in America. The problem we now have is that the formula doesn’t have a plan for what to do when a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic comes along. The plans my generation worked so hard for appear to be crashing down right in front of our very eyes. Many of us built our very lives around this blueprint, and with each interference, it feels like our sense of identity and purpose is disrupted as well.
Another factor making this particular school year emotionally exhausting is that students were expected to put significant national events at a low priority compared to their school work. As a Black American, 2020 was a ferocious year to survive. The coronavirus affected us at a higher rate than other demographics; we dealt with the hands of police brutality and a former president who labeled Black Lives Matter as a symbol of hate.Universities expected students to put national headlines on a back burner and focus solely on education. This has led me to internalize and suppress many of my feelings about this past year’s events because I am aware that I don't know how I'll cope with all that weight if I ever were to acknowledge them fully. I know this lifestyle isn't a healthy way to live. However, I feel there's so much to unpack from 2020 that dealing with those issues will require time I can't seem to find.
These past few semesters will go down in history as challenging for many college students worldwide, and I know my experience isn't unique to just me. Hopefully, whoever reads this feels less alone and, in a sense, validated that their feelings aren't crazy or particular to just them. It's been over a year now since the pandemic fully entered our national consciousness, and nothing since has been expected. On the bright side, it appears the end of the pandemic is in sight, and we may finally become less isolated and be able to experience the futures we've always dreamed of having.
Ozioma Mgbahurike is an electrical engineering sophomore and opinion writer for The Battalion.