Recently, I graduated from college listening to the University of Southern California’s Official Fight Song from the comfort of my living room sofa.
I used to pride myself as being a stay-at-home type of girl. After I graduated high school, I spent my first year at East Los Angeles College, a community college just three blocks away from my childhood home, where I enjoyed the privilege of being able to walk back and forth between classes. As a sophomore, I transferred to USC, and commuted my first year there, waking up at 5 every morning to hitch a ride with my parents to Union Station in downtown L.A.
It wasn’t until my junior year that I had a true taste of the college experience living near campus with my peers. Finally, I had the freedom to join clubs, attend events and have spontaneous dinners with friends because I wasn’t scrambling to take the bus home before sunset.
Each year of my college career looked very different. But my last two years were especially memorable because I was able to experience more of college life.
When the coronavirus pandemic forced us to pack up our textbooks and quickly move our lives back home, I mourned the loss of my last semester as a college senior. I had envisioned celebrating all of my academic achievements in-person, taking graduation photos in front of our school landmarks and tearfully bidding the last days of school farewell with my best friends.
For those of us who have the privilege of living, working and studying on our college campuses, student life has enhanced our collective college experience. College simply isn’t the same from behind laptop screens and video chat calls.
This semester, USC announced a 3.5% tuition hike amid the coronavirus pandemic, bringing the undergraduate tuition cost for the 2020-2021 academic year to $57,256. While USC does not consider an applicant’s ability to pay in its admission process and does offer one of the largest financial aid packages in the U.S., the cost can still affect students.
For those who don’t receive financial aid, or not enough to cover the mandatory expenses of their dream college, the price tag of attending a higher institution can be a major deterrent.
With the pandemic, it is uncertain if schools will hold in-person classes in the fall. Although students can still receive a great education from the same professors, college life won’t be the same without community, especially for the price they’re being asked to pay.
Additionally, many don’t have the luxury of even spending time on campus. For my fellow classmates who work multiple jobs, take care of family members or have responsibilities elsewhere, college can be a struggle to even make it to lecture on time.
I was lucky to be able to be involved while in college. My time at USC was so memorable because of my experiences there. From opening my mailbox to find a personalized acceptance letter packaged in cardinal and gold to eating waffles in the dining hall with the letters U, S and C stamped in the batter, a big part of the cost was in the invaluable personal experience.
It’s the late night conversations over cups of boba tea, screaming our school’s chants at the top of our lungs or blowing off steam after class with my fellow journalism majors over some particularly harsh edits a professor gave us that will be the things I miss most about college.
I used to think that I didn’t need to be around my peers to have a good time. But then I experienced the joy of being able to walk alongside people at a similar stage of life as me. Bonded by similar dreams and fears and sharing common experiences together, I am a bigger believer in the value of the college community.
Although the novel coronavirus has burdened me with so much uncertainty, it has also revealed to me just how much I need human connection in ways I did not before. A big part of my time at USC was spent with my friends and those memories will stick with me more than any journalism story I’ve pitched or letter grade I’ve received in a class.
I will never take it for granted again.
Bonnie Wong is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California and a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.
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