Almost 200 years ago the Victorian author Charles Dickens created a character called Ebenezer Scrooge who stole any warmth, hope, and joy experienced by those around him. However, after being visited by three spirits who demonstrated the truths and consequences of his actions to him, Scrooge’s heart was transformed.
Similar to the protagonist from The Christmas Carol, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact millions of people by intruding on their everyday life and robbing us of important and joyous moments. Although we in the mortal world cannot be visited by spirits, it can be said that on occasion good can arise from misfortune.
Although tragic, the COVID-19 pandemic has not been completely terrible for all. For some, it has provided the opportunity for increased self-care and improvement, reflection, and life changes, along with teaching several the value of resilience. To showcase how the encompassing theme of resilience and hope rings true, I spoke to four individuals who expressed and shared these core values.
Looking forward, the ideas of self-care, grace, and resilience are ones which clearly should be prioritized, even beyond pandemic life. There is no mistaking that COVID, like Scrooge, has taken away many memorable experiences. The main takeaway clearly demonstrated through these four ‘ghosts’ of COVID-past, present, and future is that goodness will prevail in the long haul.
Traveling back in time to when the COVID-19 pandemic was nothing more than chatter and headlines, Guelph-Humber alumni Stefan Thomas spoke about his memory of when the global pandemic was announced, shutting down the university initially only for two weeks to ‘flatten the curve.’
“Like most people, I didn’t expect it to last so long,” Thomas said. “By the time I arrived in my fourth year in 2021, I came to the realization that, ‘Oh, we’re really doing school virtually.’ It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting.”
Thomas, who graduated from Guelph-Humber’s community social services program, elaborated on the adaptability required of himself in regard to completing the remainder of his placement virtually. “It affected a lot of people,” said Thomas. “Plainly because, like most programs, placement is meant to be conducted in-person.”
Thomas fortunately had his fall placement secured, but due to the prolonged enforced health guidelines, it too remained primarily virtual. “The experience just wasn’t what I anticipated it being, with a bulk of it being delivered online,” said Thomas. “I didn’t receive the full scope of what I was doing.”
Despite negative associations of the pandemic, Thomas did touch on how the shift to virtual learning has taught many young learners to better hone skills which were previously disregarded. In particular, he emphasized the trait of open-mindedness. “It is still possible to achieve what you want to achieve and make the impact you want to make . . . It might look different, but overtime, you can still have a great impact and it can be a significant experience.”
Thomas, who recently secured a new position with the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jays Cares Foundation as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion virtual educator, has attributed the skills he learned over the course of the pandemic and his final two years of study to his success post-graduation. Looking towards where we currently find ourselves in the pandemic landscape, I opted to speak with an individual who has vast knowledge on the topic of resilience and regularly sees the effects it has had on students within the community.
Allison Reeves, a registered psychologist doubling as a full-time faculty member at Guelph-Humber, said that she regularly hears about the taxing effects the pandemic has caused from her students and therapy clients. Reeves identified their concerns as ranging from “issues with focus and concentration, to a sense of social alienation, boredom and isolation, ‘Zoom’ fatigue, headaches from screen time, disconnection from friends and colleagues when working online… You name it. And that’s not to mention the physical health concerns related to COVID itself, and the stress and anxiety that this can bring.”
In jest, it is apparent that online video conferencing platforms have given students and working professionals’ problems which have run the gamut. In juxtaposition, Reeves also corroborated their feelings of newfound optimism surrounding the situation.
“Some of my students have been extremely resilient,” Reeves explained. “They have re-organized themselves to be able to learn effectively online, joined online events in order to connect with peers, and they have sought out experiences with university clubs and organizations that had moved to an online platform. These students have been able to navigate this new online world with success and have found connection and meaning in doing so.”
Despite the current provincial enforced COVID-19 regulations that continue to keep many students at home, it seems as though the pandemic has allowed for creative avenues of communication to emerge. Jessica Pilfold, a former Guelph-Humber student life coordinator, agreed with Reeve when she spoke to me about the unique ways the institution opted to create a collective sense of community and connection with their incoming class of 2021.
“A shocking but [a] highlight for sure was how popular and well attended virtual activities led by students were,” said Pilfold. “In particular, attendance at program society events was much higher when we went virtually in comparison to when we were in person. I think it is a reflection of the flexibility of being able to attend wherever you may be, along with the concept of being able to connect when those types of activities weren’t allowed.”
Pilford said that the desire for connection and sense of community were important to her and her team. “Student-life sanctioned events which can be perceived as uncool or boring actually ended up being a hubspot where students found people who were going through a similar experience and just a place to connect and create new connections,” she explained.
As to what comes next, Pilfold spoke about how she predicts students will come out on the other side. “Something that I learned from working with students who then became graduates was that empathy became more important than ever,” she said. “I think that students who have experienced it all have this collective experience, that it felt lonely going through in the solitude of our homes. So, when they connect with others who had this shared experience, there’s this immediate bond and feeling of empathy towards one another.”
Looking towards that brighter future within the Guelph-Humber community, current third year kinesiology student Mackenzie Lau is a part of a niche community of students who will have completed more than half of her degree from home.
Lau spoke about the adaptability required of her as a first-year university student when news of the global pandemic was announced. Her initial concern was the cancellation of a dance competition she had that upcoming Friday, but it eventually grew into concern for and disappointment in the cancellation of her anatomy lab, taking away an in-person educational opportunity to examine a human cadaver for which the course was highly esteemed. As the online format continued over to the 2021 school year, Lau recalled performing taping exercises and demonstrating lab work on herself and her family.
Although unconventional, Lau is not alone as she is a part of the first of many graduating classes who will have completed a majority of their undergraduate degrees in an online environment.
In addition to her musings about virtual learning, Lau expressed the need for better advocacy regarding mental health and self-care during these times. “A lot of students have trouble separating rest from school, especially if they’re working, attending class, and socializing online. It can be terribly detrimental to one’s mental health if you’re trapped in one bedroom all day.”
Despite the negatives, Lau spotlights that the time reduction in her commute allowed her to better personal skills, like time management and the ability to listen to her body more intuitively. “Knowing when I was overworking myself, or that it was okay to take 12 breaks if I needed was completely okay. I’d prioritize going for walks or spending time talking to friends, because I needed it, and craved those elements of pre-pandemic life.”
But in all honesty, as for COVID all we can say is… Bah humbug!