A few weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday, I was sitting at a table on New Side, surrounded by my friends, in between midterm exams. We were talking about our spring break plans as laughter and jokes filled the air. In a couple of days, we would all leave campus to travel to different places and enjoy what we thought was a short pause from classes. Suddenly, as the clock struck noon, a stream of people entered Peirce. Soon, all the wooden seats around us were occupied by peers, and some of them had an ash cross on their foreheads.
Although my friends were not religious, we soon began talking about what we could give up for Lent. “I’ll give up Peirce desserts and potato chips,” my girlfriend quickly said. She had done the same thing last year and willfully avoided eating the chef-crafted sweets in the left corner of the servery. As I was struggling to come up with an idea, she suggested I could stop drinking Peirce coffee throughout the following 40 days.
“No way,” I objected. This year, I had made a tradition of waking up early every morning, grabbing a cup of coffee from the servery and studying Chinese before my 9 a.m. class. Even though the coffee was rather average, it always woke me up and made my cold winter mornings a little warmer. After going back and forth for a while, I agreed to give it up. It would be hard, I knew. But I figured a few cups of tea could make up for the lost caffeine. At that point, I did not know the cup of coffee I was drinking at the moment would be the last I would have in Peirce this year.
As I was about to board a flight back to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in the second week of break, I received an email on my phone. Kenyon’s administration had made the most responsible decision: delaying our return to campus by a couple of weeks. The COVID-19 pandemic had worried most of us, but I was not expecting classes to be cancelled a few days before.
As the days passed, my professors quickly emailed our classes and figured out a way to teach online. As the situation got worse, we soon were notified that the entire rest of the semester would be conducted online. We had to come back to campus, pack our rooms up and have a short farewell on the Hill. Although I am a sophomore, I was still saddened by the shortened year, as I will spend my next year abroad in D.C. and China. If things had not changed, I would have spent the following weeks spending time with juniors and seniors who will not be there in my fourth year at Kenyon.
Riding back to campus, all the memories made me tearful. NCA get-togethers, squash at the KAC, grabbing tater tots at the Village Inn, working hard in the Mods, meeting my gamelan ensemble class, work days at the CGE, and sitting with my friends every Sunday at 5 p.m. to talk about our weekend adventures — none of this would happen again for a while. Those things I knew for sure that I would regret not being able to do. But, I also realized I am missing what I did not think I would: the swampy Middle Path walks in the middle of a strong rain, the smell of the countryside, the colors around campus, office hours with my professors, and my cup of Peirce coffee every morning at 8:30 a.m.
I know my farewell is not as hard as it is for seniors. I will only be gone for a year and come back to the Hill for another couple of semesters, but what I took for granted as a part of my routine now seems uniquely meaningful. Although the Peirce coffee is not as popular as Wiggin Street’s is, I now hold it dear to my heart. After packing my things, I made sure to wave at Peirce. “I will see you soon,” I whispered.