I’m going to be honest. Writing this final NBN column is hard. It’s hard to reflect fully on four years when the past two were so different, so distant from the first. Reading through the columns of years past felt like entering an alternate universe. Where clubs still met in person. Where students funneled in and out of Kresge, McTrib and Norris constantly. When, on a nice warm day, you could decide on a whim to walk home on the lakefill and run into friends who were doing the same. When end-of-quarter fundies filled our calendars.

When college was just, well, college.

I think one reason writing this is so difficult is because I’ve tried for so long to not think about everything that was lost this year. To not fully reflect on what it meant to walk through this year as a college student, away from family, forced to navigate “unprecedented times” with peers. To just live in the moment because it was too painful and anxiety-inducing to think about the greater implications. Bluntly, it feels like we only had two full years of regular Northwestern. Two real Dillos instead of four. Twenty weeks of normal spring quarter enjoying some warmth after freezing winters, instead of 40. Two normal endings to the year, where you could say goodbye to everyone you wanted to in person and knew what was coming next.

How do you say goodbye to something that you don’t feel like you got the full use of? Goodbye to the “best four years of your life” (minus two)? For the last 16 months, I have been doing my best not to think about how much we didn’t get, and with good reason. Nearly 600,000 Americans are reported to have died from COVID-19. Millions are going on months of unemployment. Democracy and voting rights are constantly under attack. A powerful movement for racial justice is spreading across the country. Feeling sorry for missing out on a few quarters of college feels trivial. In some senses, it is. I got to live with seven close friends, be social and even have some fun. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned at Northwestern, it’s that two things can be true at once.

For me, NU is inextricably tied to something larger than it used to be. It’s not just where I went to college. It’s where I lived through a pandemic and watched the world fall apart. My home on Sherman Ave. will also be remembered as the place where, during quarantine, my house got in the routine of making weekly Shabbat dinners for whoever was around, something we never did before spring 2020. Where I spent more quality time with the people I live with than I ever had before. Life slowed down, and in all the scariness of those early days, making those meals together brought a hint of normalcy that, if just for a few hours, felt fun. We played caps, Catan, Risk and more. It became the place where I learned to love to go on walks with friends who I didn’t live with, hopefully to the lake, which could always calm my newfound anxieties.

It wasn’t your classic college experience. It wasn’t four years of unabashed bliss and carefree fun. It certainly wasn’t how I expected college to go. I’d love another game at Ryan Stadium. Or seeing prospective students hear NU tour guides spew claims I’ve never known about this school. Or just to have one more in-person class.

Still, thanks to Northwestern and the people I met here, I am a more engaged, aware and hopeful person. I know I have a community that cares about one another and will step up in times of need. I know that the lake stays freezing even on Evanston’s warmest days. That a polar vortex can make throwing boiling water a socially acceptable activity. I know what a Dillo Day is, that Justin Jackson is a ball carrier and that caps is a drinking game.