This year’s Senior Sophister companion

Zaynab Zaher explores the complex college experience and nostalgia of this year’s SS students

Illustration by Evelyn Doyle for Trinity News

With the end of our time at Trinity approaching, many Senior Sophister students find ourselves struggling with varying emotions. From anxiety over the unknown, to excitement over new things to come, being conflicted is part of the package deal for graduating students. While balancing our Capstones, group projects, essays, extracurricular activities, and work (basically, all of our various stress-inducing responsibilities), we are likely to experience the full spectrum of human emotions. In this process of tackling our never-ending to-do list, however, nostalgia proves to be our constant companion.

Although in the past SS students have undoubtedly been susceptible to bouts of longing for a return to their first year as undergrads, this year’s batch is particularly vulnerable to such attacks. Here is the crutch of it: we did not get enough time. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, we were deprived of our entire first year and basically a half of our time on campus. We still shudder when remembering the pre-recorded lectures, the WhatsApp group chats, the rare, socially-distanced meetings in which masks and hand sanitizers were a must, and, of course, the Zoom classes in which the equivalent of showing up to the Arts Building and seeing its trendy denizens was looking at people’s various creative backdrops.

Even living in university accommodation was an entirely different experience — a ghost town compared to the way it is now, with numerous restrictions due to COVID-19. Students living outside of Dublin were especially isolated, finding it more difficult to get to know their classmates; particularly with the scarce socially-distanced meetings also being hard to make it to, with everything going on. 

International students had their own set of challenges as well. Not only did some move away from home during a pandemic, but they also had to find accommodation, which was already difficult due to the housing crisis. Many struggled with homesickness while dealing with the isolation that the pandemic guaranteed, trying to make friends with such limitations in place. Classes in the huge lecture halls of the Hamilton and the Arts Building were a shock to our systems; indeed, anything beats the muted, blank squares on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, even late-night cramming at Kinsella Hall. 

Unfortunately, the time we spent being denied a classic university experience has led to this sense that our time at Trinity is unfinished”

While walking through campus, it’s easy to recall a time when it was empty, when we had to book appointments to go to one of its libraries, when we could only daydream about attending university on campus. It’s even funny to remember having to give campus tours as newly-minted S2S mentors and barely having any idea what to say to the new first-years, since we were just as new to campus as them. Needless to say, there is a world of difference between College during the lockdown, in which any form of contact with the outside world was very much a luxury, and after it. Knowing what it feels like to go from staring at the same four walls and waiting to be permitted an authentic university experience makes us especially susceptible to stretches of sentimentality. Such reminiscing makes one feel robbed of their time at College. Unfortunately, the time we spent being denied a classic university experience has led to this sense that our time at Trinity is unfinished.

Naturally, there are various mechanisms fourth-year students pursue in order to try and gain closure. Some try to fill their time with social activities to make up for the lack of them in their first year — from society events to nights out with the gang, even a quick drink at Chaplin’s. Others spend every waking minute on campus while they still can. There are also  SS students who decide to apply for a master’s at Trinity; anything to soak in the college experience we have left. Inevitably, walking around campus feels like drinking in every moment we missed, going back to a time when such an accessible experience was a luxury we were not yet afforded. When recalling the way things were during the pandemic, the loneliness we faced then turns to an appreciation for what we now have, which, in turn, shifts into wistfulness for it, since we know it will soon be over. Having been on campus for two and a half years, and knowing that there’s only a semester to go, one cannot shed the suffocating nostalgia that creeps up sometimes. At the risk of being incredibly sappy, I’ll say this: we (or at least I) will miss it. Terribly. Luckily, we’ve still got some time left, and we’ll gladly make it count, so long as our endless to-do lists allow it, that is.