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Mask On, Mask Off

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A frame full of blue surgical masks like the ones used during the COVID-19 pandemic.“It was the best of times and the worst of times.” – Charles Dickens

This perfectly describes my sophomore year experience at UNL. 

I moved into the dorms as a freshman during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, excited for my first year of college and living on my own. However, the pandemic continued throughout the year and I lost motivation for school with online classes and minimal human interaction. My sophomore year would be better right? Wrong.

I had a lot of things going for me entering my sophomore year. I moved into my own place off-campus, switched my major to broadcasting and got a steady job. The university even announced that students would be able to attend football games, something I really missed the year before. But something still didn’t feel right.

 UNL continued the mask mandate and COVID testing during the fall semester, which was absolutely the right decision for everyone. But this didn’t improve my mental state and attitude. Social distancing and not being able to see people’s faces doesn’t really lead to a lot of human interaction! Even in large lectures, I felt like I was the only person in the room. Classes I looked forward to during the summer suddenly felt like a chore. 

As the semester continued, my mental state began to spiral. School did not get better, and my personal life began to go downhill too. I started asking myself some deep questions. “Is this really going to be my college experience? Is it even worth putting in the work? Should I drop out?” I needed a win at this point.

As fate would have it, that win came about a month into the spring semester. COVID cases went down to the point where the university relaxed the mask mandate. I don’t know what caused it, but going to class and seeing everyone’s faces for the first time flipped a switch in my mind. Suddenly, I felt like everything was going to be alright, and I hadn’t felt that in a long time. 

My motivation and general life outlook skyrocketed for the rest of the spring. I made friends in my classes, put in extra effort for projects and felt the happiest I had in two years. I knew that college is where I wanted to be and the struggles of fall semester felt years ago. It was like the mask represented all of the adversity I faced in the past and with it gone, I could finally breathe again.

I learned many lessons during sophomore year, but one that stuck with me is to never give up. Even in your darkest hour, there is still light at the end of the tunnel.

Written by: Matt Johnson

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