Noah Brigham is a senior psychology major.
This week I mourn the loss of what, only yesterday, I held in the palm of my hand.
With the spread of the coronavirus and the subsequent announcement that all classes, fairs, events, meetings, concerts, etc. on campus will be canceled for the remainder of the spring semester, my initial reaction was anger and frustration.
Throughout the last four years in college, my peers and I have expended great effort and focus in our academic pursuits. All because we had our eyes set on the moments that should lie just ahead — the culmination and celebration of all that we have achieved — the spring of our senior year.
At 3 a.m. late last December, trapped deep in the recesses of the library, choking and sputtering to finish final projects and studying for the last of my exams, I knew I was not alone in fantasizing about the coming spring. Staller season was waiting just around the corner, I told myself. Soon I would be tossing a frisbee with roommates and waving to old friends made new again.
I smiled to think of warm spring nights spent laughing with friends and classmates on the patio behind The Bench, drink in hand and assignments forgotten. I imagined the afternoons of skipping class and packing into cars, practically in each other’s laps, with the windows down, shouting and laughing happily all the way to West Meadow Beach.
The nights spent stumbling home after a quick bite at D.P. Dough, the sunny Instagram flicks with the whole crew, the Staller hangouts between classes—these things are springtime at Stony Brook. When our classes demanded the most of us, we took a few moments to look forward to them and then put our nose back to the grindstone.
It would be unfitting of the spirit of this university to only mourn the partying we looked forward to. This is a campus filled with young leaders and we have all lost something more than the springtime of celebration.
Since I arrived at Stony Brook in the fall of 2018, I have spent every day seeking to establish myself as a student leader here. This is a process that takes time. It took me my entire first year at Stony Brook to ingratiate myself and network to secure a leadership role last spring as secretary of the SBU chapter of Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology. Personally, I looked forward to seeing my leadership role to its end by helping to organize and execute a graduate student panel, a research fair, and an induction ceremony with my fellow Psi Chi E-board members.
Many student leaders have worked so hard to curate and organize both academic and recreational activities that are vital to the thriving of the student body here. On Wednesday, March 11, so many of these opportunities, beyond only those I was involved in, all fell by the wayside as well.
Nearly a thousand times, we have all seen ourselves putting on our caps and gowns, looking in the mirror as we draped our tassels and stoles around our shoulders, walking across the stage to thunderous applause, and turning that tassel on our mortarboards from right to left. On Monday, SBU’s graduating class learned that these daydreams may remain only daydreams. We will all still graduate but the risk of such an enormous social gathering as SBU’s commencement day is almost surely out of the question.
On Monday evening, wallowing in a combination of anger, frustration and sadness, I mourned the loss of that once in a lifetime experience there is a strong chance I’ll be robbed of. I consoled my friends and peers. We all had reasons to be upset and there was remaining uncertainty to be anxious about. I felt irrational and selfish. Eventually, my tantrum subsided and I had to look on to the future with some rational thought. I realized that this is a real crisis, that it poses a real threat, and that we can all genuinely take measures to reduce that threat.
As I write now, I am again imagining myself putting on my cap and gown, looking in the mirror, crossing the stage to thunderous applause, turning my tassel. But when I remember the immense risk such a ceremony poses to the greater community of Long Island and our country — the spread of infectious disease — I am happy to let my commencement ceremony live as only a daydream in my mind.
As students, graduates, and faculty at Stony Brook University, I implore you to examine your own lives similarly. What does it truly mean to sacrifice? Just how capable are we all really of adapting and overcoming in the face of crises like this one? We are children of a moment in history that will demand many great sacrifices. The celebratory traditions of the spring of our senior year are but a drop in the bucket. This week we have all lost something we will sorely miss. I only ask that we take a moment to learn from it.