"Your twenties are supposed to be a time of self-discovery, of graduating university, getting a job, and becoming a ‘real adult’ at long last"Olivia Lisle, IG: @livcollage

This time last year, I spent my nineteenth birthday on tour with the university brass band in Yorkshire. COVID-19 was more than looming at this point, but the full reality of the situation had yet to sink in. We did some busking in York, visited the National Railway Museum, and generally had a carefree day finished off with Colin the Caterpillar cake at midnight.

This year, it couldn’t be more different. Thanks to term dates being shifted slightly and the online term, I will be celebrating my twentieth birthday at home with a supervision and dinner with my parents. As with everything in the pandemic era, it’s hardly what I’d imagined it to be like, even a year or six months ago. Turning twenty is supposed to be a milestone – and it is, regardless of the circumstances in which it occurs – but are milestones worth as much without the commemoration they deserve?

Having had the last of my teenage years restricted to daily walks and reading academic texts and Zoom calls doesn’t feel like much to celebrate. It’s more a feeling of regret, like the last year has been wasted, albeit by factors beyond my control. I didn’t choose this form of existence – none of us did – but there’s always the lingering concern that I could have done more, before the pandemic hit at the very least. They say that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, and it couldn’t be more true.

“Looking forward, trying to picture what the world, the job market, and even I will be like in a decade’s time is no easy task.”

Going to university is supposed to be a chance to fly the family nest. Like most people in my year, I imagine, I waved goodbye to my parents at the start of Michaelmas 2019 with the expectation that I would never spend as much time at home again. However, with two of the five terms I’ve completed so far being at home, the opportunity for independence has been taken away.

Instead, the approach of my third decade has been a time of reflection. We can’t change the past – one of the more certain facts in an increasingly shifting, unsettled world – but how are we supposed to change the future? Your twenties are supposed to be a time of self-discovery, of graduating university, getting a job, and becoming a ‘real adult’ at long last. With the way things are going jobs-wise, and particularly as a humanities student, it feels like I’ll be stuck living at home for the next few years, if not more. It’s an uncertain future for me personally facing my twenties, and for the world facing the 2020s.

Looking forward, trying to picture what the world, the job market, and even I will be like in a decade’s time is no easy task. I couldn’t have imagined these circumstances for my twentieth birthday when I was ten or even eighteen; the disruption has been so total and unexpected. Even managing to avoid a lockdown birthday didn’t seem particularly remarkable at the time, but a year later, I can recognise how lucky I was to ‘sneak under the wire’ in that respect.


Mountain View

Nostalgia-19: The Good Old Days??

After more than a decade in the educational pipeline, moving from primary school to secondary school and then university, what comes next is more of a mystery. Suddenly, there is no obvious, predetermined next step. It’s a hard enough task to select a career in ‘normal’ times, but the pandemic has made the paths to one after graduation seem even more winding and uncertain.

Part of this feeling of approaching dislocation, for me, stems from the central role education played in my teenage years. I met most of my friends at school, and the memories of chaotic school trips and putting on plays and exam-season camaraderie are among my favourite memories of being a teenager. Once we were old enough, going on holiday together easily joined the pantheon of treasured recollections. At the moment, it seems unlikely that similar memories will or can be made in the immediate future, but that means I’m all the more determined to try once it’s allowed. Even the half-indulged daydreams of lockdown – attending the World Band Festival in Lucerne, anyone? – are going on my bucket list for my twenties.

It is possible that I am being overdramatic, after ten months spent at home in the last year and staring down the barrel of another online term. Then again, changing decades and changing expectations surely should provoke some anxiety. It’s a reminder that, even as the world seems to have stood still, time has not, and we cannot afford to let it pass us by. I’m going to turn twenty in a pandemic; that is a non-negotiable fact. What I can affect, however, is the way I decide to think about it. Looking forward, not back, seems the best path to choose for me.