I’ve always been someone who worked and went to school. I started unpaid interning at 15 and have been working since. One thing I love is an unexpected break, which was what happened at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. I still had to go to work, but staying at my house for two weeks and not driving to my campus, which at the time was Tarrant County College, was great. Soon, my two-week break turned into going back to school online. After completing my Associates Degree through the TCC Cornerstone Honors Program, I received my admissions letter to the University of Texas at Arlington. I did not get to do the commencement ceremony at TCC, but as far as I was concerned, I was closing one chapter in my life and opening the next.
Starting my time at UTA as an online student in the Fall of 2020 was not foreign to me because I had never really been on campus. I knew of the library from going with friends, and I knew where one student parking lot was, but I did not get the MAV Experience — or even get to tour the campus — because of COVID. Still, it’s hard to miss something that you never knew. It’s hard to remember if I had negative feelings about having to take classes online, but I do remember I was adamant about not saying 2020 sucked.
In no way did I enjoy the experience of living through a pandemic or diminish the tragedy of the losses occurring, but I wanted to believe I was content with myself and blessed. In online classes I started to feel like I was able to focus on both my schooling and working which I had not been able to previously experience. I began working full time at my job, made the hours work around school, and for some time things were good. I felt comfortable enough to answer questions in class, and put myself out there. In class we had to keep our cameras on, but it seemed more comfortable to me to get the question wrong via computer rather than in person. My professors’ ability to conform to the rapidly changing state of education was admirable, and I think this helped me become so comfortable online. The more I got used to a schedule of doing classes online, and balancing work, the more free time I had. Not necessarily free time, but more time with myself. I am introverted and never went out much, but at this point I was not going out at all. I was doing my homework at home, taking classes at home, and going to work and coming right back home. When there is no background noise around you, or no one else to focus on, you have no choice but to focus on yourself.
As the quarantine went on, however, things began to change. I was becoming someone I did not want to be around. My work environment began stressing me out. I found myself stewing about the culture at UTA because the online classes were so much bigger than at TCC. Speaking to my advisor or professors felt (and still feels) very distant because we’ve never met in person. I felt like I was just an ID number. Nothing was what I naively thought it would be, and it was making me a person I wouldn’t want to be friends with. I started logging into class late, keeping my camera off, and I had no motivation. On top of it all, in the span of a month, three of my family members died: my grandmother, my great grandmother, and my aunt. I felt like I could not catch a break. I spent the rest of the semester logging into class, hearing the input of other students and thinking, “I do not belong here. I have tricked the whole system into believing I do, but I do not.”
My Fall professors probably do not remember me, or if they do, they may think I was someone who did not take class seriously, maybe someone who did not participate unless specifically asked to, someone who was in the background. On the surface that was true, but when I crawled over the semester’s finish line and passed my classes, I was not the Taylor I’d been when I started the Fall 2020 semester. I was not a straight A student, but I had made it, and it put a fire under me.
I knew I had to face my issues head on. Originally, I sought out ways of fixing myself, but over time I learned that I was never broken. I was simply misguided. The pieces of me were all there, they just needed to be reorganized, not mended. I found progressive Christian YouTubers to listen to, and their messages helped me get questions about myself answered, spiritually. At the same time, I went to therapy so that I could get questions about myself answered, mentally. I cannot unfriend myself; I am not able to walk away from the parts of me that I don’t like. I can, however, attempt to make amends, so I reached out to people I’d wronged, and I apologized. Some relationships were mended and others weren’t. In the past, I would’ve been resentful about the latter, but in correlation with my self-discovery, my empathy grew as well. All the therapy, the growth of my spirituality, and the acceptance of a new way of life is helping me become a better daughter, student, and person.
As I continue to reflect and seek answers, I’ve come to appreciate the services and professors at UTA. They aren’t the same as TCC, but they are all good in their own ways. One of my professors at UTA even got me the opportunity to write this article. Now I can see there will be more opportunities to create connections, and they may even extend beyond the numerous ones I had at TCC.
I have not perfected myself; I still have a way to go. But now, as I look back over my first two semesters at UTA, I wonder if I was so uncomfortable because I was growing. I was a flower sprouting in the concrete, and I did not even realize it at the time. It was painful, but the quarantine made me reflect on myself. I re-evaluated the importance of my schooling, the inevitably of morality, and how to always appreciate everyone around me, whether living or not.
The Spring 2021 semester has been great for me and hopefully, next spring, I will be graduating. I am excited for the future of this version of me, the version I have learned to nurture, appreciate, and love.
“Anything that’s not positive, I don’t have the energy to focus on it. Anything that’s not going in the right direction, I don’t have the time or the energy.”
– DMX [1970-2021]
Feature image provided by the author.