College kids are a deeply superstitious population. Not in the sense of organized religion, nor in the manner of salt-over-shoulder, under-a-ladder-backward wives’ tales, but in the powerful urge to concoct their own traditions: daily rituals that they carry with them through their classes, sometimes shared with friends, sometimes only for themselves. I could sit and attempt an unqualified Freudian analysis, perhaps something about the sudden separation from the domestic schedules and parental control that we grew up with, or the transitional nature of this time of life leaving us desperate for a sense of control and stability, but I won’t. Not just because I am one of the few students who hasn’t taken a psych class to unhelpfully diagnose my friends, but because I don’t honestly feel the need to justify this stance.
Every college kid I know has their own rituals, somewhere between “quirky” and “neurotic.” The night before finals last fall, my roommate and I, delirious with sleep deprivation and anxiety, mixed every cereal in Stillings Dining Hall, dubbed it “The Dumpster Fire” and forced ourselves to eat it in its entirety. We declared the abomination our new finals tradition; an unholy good luck charm to be repeated at the close of every semester to come. Of course, by the time the next round of finals came about, it was no longer an option. (Thanks Covid:))
I miss the mundane rituals I built during my freshman year: continental breakfasts between late-morning classes where I listened to news podcasts as I ate, the tiny broom closet of a study lounge in my hall where I locked myself during my most desperate 3 a.m. es- say-writing crunches, midnight runs to Wildkitty with my friends, jostling through the crowd of students to claim my order before someone else could. With each tradition I formed, I felt like I was carving out a space for myself on campus, claiming it as my home a little more. But now, between social distancing measures and having moved out of the dorms, almost all of my rituals are now out of reach and I find myself feeling as if I’ve returned to campus to find that the space I carved has been plastered over.
It’s tempting to write this year off, to commit oneself to simply doing the work, staying safe, and making it to the next semester. These are all noble goals of course, but I think that now more than ever we need habits to hold onto. We need to feel like, even though the world has seemingly gone off the rails, we still have a home at UNH. So, I have decided to turn away from my sadness over memories lost and face the task of re-establishing my place at this school.
Maybe we don’t need to mourn the loss of our old traditions. Maybe we can go back to the drawing board and create new ones. It’s not as hard as it seems—there’s always a place you can make your own: a corner of the library that sits empty, a stump in college woods you can carve your name into, a window seat in Paul College where you can sip your coffee in the morning. There is a silver lining to this year of upheaval and lost traditions. This year prompts us to explore, to re-discover this campus as if we are freshman again; every building a labyrinth and every out-of-the-way greenspace a secret garden. So go, explore. Take a left turn in that hallway where you’ve only gone right. Wander the shelves of the library until a book calls you to learn about Medieval Sexuality or 18th Century Ukrainian Economics or what have you. There is still a place for you here, you might just have to look a little harder to find it now