Need Not Despair

two arms holding hands with a pink sky background

Allow me to briefly take you back to the fall of 2018.

It was the year that most of us began our education at the University of Guelph-Humber. You were probably just fresh out of high school – green, ambitious, eager to take on the world – and your entire journey was still ahead of you. But looking back at the course you’ve run as you now near the finish line, it’s hard to believe all the changes that we experienced together within the span of only four years.

For starters, the Humber North campus today is totally unrecognizable compared to our first impressions of it some time ago. The Barrett Centre for Technology Innovation and the parking garage were both still no more than bags of unmixed cement, and the campus itself was teeming with crowds, activity, and energy. Living in residence, my favourite pastime was taking long walks around campus. My leisure explorations were always met with a pleasurable assault on the senses, overwhelmed with the aromas of cafeteria food, warm hugs from my friends, and the pleasure of listening to the rhythmic symphonies of the hustle and bustle that surrounded me. Guelph-Humber was a place that was very much alive.

But while I was busy studying and having fun, even back then, most people were already very much aware that the times we were living in were far from normal. Off-campus, the world was experiencing politically and socially tense times, and unrest seemed to have reached a new apex. That year saw the height of the #MeToo movement, the initial brewing of what would eventually become known as cancel culture, and Tik Tok was still what only clocks did – as well as that Kesha bop from a decade earlier.

But as strange as this period already was, none of us could have prepared for the unprecedented global events that would completely flip our lives upside down within the following two years.

Image credit: Maria Janella Salvador

Now let’s jump back to February 2022.

We are now well into the second year of a global pandemic, and the world has been slapped around, chewed up, and spit out like you would never have predicted four years prior.

Society had been forced to suspend everything that involves being within six feet of each other, and the outside world – including our beloved campus – had become a ghost town. The symphonic hustle and bustle that I had taken for granted for years had ceased playing, and compared to the vibrant setting it formerly was, it feels like having set foot in a desolate parallel universe. I never thought that I would ever find myself being nostalgic about in-person classes or crowded atriums, but The Non-Linear Path takes you to places changes you in ways that you’d never have expected.

Most of us remain confined at home out of necessity as part of our civic duty. We live with a heightened awareness of public health and safety, and most of our daily activities are conducted via email and webcam. You realize that you were only friends with certain people because you saw them five days a week, and for the ones who have proven themselves to be genuine, FaceTime isn’t enough to keep you from missing them dearly. If you thought things couldn’t get more vitriolic politically or socially back in 2018, the last two years have undoubtedly proven you wrong. Many of us have lost our jobs, and others have lost loved ones. As we all try to make sense of the situations we suddenly found ourselves in after having our former lives completely uprooted, we desperately try to cling onto the slightest semblances of normalcy in an incredibly abnormal time.

And yet despite all this, I still consider our peer group to be among the lucky ones.

When the fall of 2020 came around, I constantly found myself thinking about incoming freshmen and what their experiences must be like to be entering university at this inconvenient time. Our situation is obviously also unideal, but what they must be facing must seem desperately insurmountable. And for the last two autumns since then, as the first day of classes roll around, I’ve regularly found myself musing on this topic again and again.

In an attempt to epitomize the unwavering optimism that has sustained us up to this point, I have come to the realization that at the very least, this hurricane of chaos and tragedy entered our lives about halfway or nearing the end of our post-secondary tenures, where the impact is significantly more bearable. And personally, while in a reflective state, I also realized that I at the very least had the opportunity to live the university experience as it was meant to be, and was able to witness Guelph-Humber in its full bloom with the hustle and bustle that I found meaningful and enjoyable. This is something I now realize many other students are not be able to say and wish I had come to appreciate sooner.

This sentiment to most people may seem to be a twisted rationale for gratitude, but finding moments to be grateful counts the most especially in times when reasons to be so aren’t that obvious.

Don’t get me wrong: yes, what fate had dealt the rest of us is no less distressing, and we have every reason to be frustrated, angry, and even resentful for all that we’ve endured over the last two years. But I find it hard – borderline heartbreaking – to imagine what it must be like for an incoming student, fresh out of high school, green, ambitious, eager to take on the world – just like we were only a short four years ago – to be reaching such a momentous milestone under these dreadful conditions.

Image credit: Maria Janella Salvador

We live in a difficult and unpredictable time, and this is especially true for young people, who have felt the pull of the proverbial rug from under them more than any other group and whose futures so suddenly became uncertain.

Entering university – just like entering any new chapter in your life – is difficult enough on its own. Add to that the weight of a global pandemic, political turbulence, and social turmoil – the next few years will not be easy. These incoming students are in a vital stage of their lives where their decisions at their most consequential, and yet it unfortunately coincided with a period in world history where planning your future seems to be a futile effort. Hypothesizing what will happen six weeks from now is nearly impossible, let alone six months or by the time they graduate in 2026.

But I suppose that’s what it ultimately means to be on The Non-Linear Path, and in spite of the obstacles we face and the unprecedented predicaments we find ourselves in, there is no better time to practice what we’re preaching than now.

In the spirit of this year’s theme, EMERGE has requested the University of Guelph-Humber community to contribute Messages of Hope – a collection of nuggets of wisdom, anecdotes, heartfelt messages, or well wishes they so generously imparted to be curated in this story to bring positivity to those among us living in an otherwise despairing and arid period.

I suppose it would be most appropriate if I were to begin with my own message: 

Times are hard. But that should never discourage you. Rather it should reassure that despite facing unfavourable conditions, you are far more capable than you realize and you can overcome anything so long as you to rise to the occasion. What will define you is what you do when times are hard. That’s when it really counts.

Leonardo Carretas | Media and Communications Studies (Multimedia Journalism) | 4th Year

On behalf of EMERGE Magazine 2022, we hope you find some inspiration, guidance, reassurance, or amusement from these heartfelt messages from your fellow members of the Guelph-Humber community. And although you may not know any of us personally, we’re sure you’ll find comfort in knowing that there are other people travelling down The Non-Linear Path alongside you who genuinely care and are weathering this storm in solidarity.

Don’t close yourself off to possibilities. If you see something that interests you, don’t be afraid to go for it. Don’t let yourself talk you out of it–you can do it!

Giuliana Donia | Media and Communications Studies (Public Relations) | 4th Year

Despite everything, you are loved. 

Many people seem to be highly critical of themselves, especially during times of distress, boiling over with guilt and blame. Oftentimes what you have done is for the best, for both yourself, your future, and the life you choose to lead. Everyone carries a story book of regrets, labelling themselves as some sort of mistake, unable to cope with the fact that they have sinned. And despite everything, you are loved. 

It is normal to be mistaken, have regrets, hurt and be hurt, but instead of the self sabotage of guilt, you should surge with a newfound hope. You are supported by those you love, and the future ahead is one to be cherished. Always look ahead, learn from your mistakes, and trust yourself more. No matter what, you will be loved by the ones you call close.

Erica Lombardo | Media and Communications Studies (Public Relations) | 4th Year

I think something that I’ve found personally helpful was just to remember that there are things that you just can’t control. We tend to think we have a lot more control on things and to combat the things we can’t control we’re constantly being told that we need to be prepared otherwise you’ll fall too far behind and that it’s your fault when things do go wrong.

Although in certain circumstances preparedness is a smart strategy, you can only do so much and the pandemic has demonstrated that. It’s not worth stressing and burning yourself out to be overly prepared and then on top of that beat yourself up when something goes wrong.

SHIT HAPPENS. And when that does happen take your time to recover. Jumping right back into it doesn’t work for everyone. There is no shame in doing what works best for your mental, physical and emotional well-being. Obviously this is all easier said than done and it’s hard to accept when something goes wrong, but just trying in whatever capacity that may be is plenty and will help.

Mikayla Ottogalli | Media and Communications Studies (Multimedia Journalism) | 4th Year

All we have is now.

Holly Villarroel | Media and Communications Studies (Visual Communications) | 4th Year

Trust yourself! What is meant to be will always be. Learn as much as you can all around you and make sure you enjoy your journey along the way.

Jagdeep Saroya | Media and Communications Studies (Digital Communications) | 4th Year

Leonardo Carretas

Leonardo Carretas is the editor-in-chief of EMERGE 2022 Web Magazine.