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Class of 2020 Faces Vanishing Finish Line

FILE - Students walk through the American University campus in Washington, Dec. 11, 2013.

We have separated so we can come together.

Not since the influenza pandemic in 1918 have Americans been asked to self-isolate as a country in order to help each other. And perhaps not since then has a group of university students been forced to disrupt their final months of college because of a pandemic.

Coming together is what will get last-semester seniors through a college experience that has no definitive resolution. We've been asked to move back in with our parents. Classes have been moved online and graduation ceremonies have been canceled.

Our final moments at college are being reshaped by a global event, but so were our first months. We were the class upset over Donald Trump's presidency. We were still freshmen when sexual and racial violence made national headlines. Some of us cried, but we also embraced. Amid the uncertainty, we were there for each other.

Imagine how the graduates of 2008 felt. They walked off the commencement stage and into the Great Recession. They couldn't know what awaited them — they just had to take the leap.

That's what we must do now.

Ashlyn Peter
Ashlyn Peter

We've spent the past four years hoping that our time in college would give us the knowledge, the work ethic and the determination needed to take on the rest of our lives. That hope got some of us on planes, traveling overseas for the first time, and learning about the world outside of our campuses.

As students at American University in Washington, D.C., it carried us to Capitol Hill, where we became history makers, small or large. It let us take part in public displays of hope, from the Women's March to the March for Our Lives. We've screamed in the center of the quad together at midnight before final exams. We've nodded from across crowded Metro cars while going to our respective internships.

We love to debate our preference for Georgetown Cupcakes or Baked and Wired as much as we like to debate politics.

This is the time in the school year when seniors search for jobs or prepare for graduate school. Many workplaces, however, have enacted a hiring freeze. Health experts say that the virus could return in the fall, like in 1918, potentially halting university operations again.

Everything is up in the air, even our long-awaited commencement ceremony that once seemed so fixed and unmoving. It's hard to watch the finish line disappear just as we approach it.

The one benefit in all of this is that we now have an abundance of time to reflect on the time we did have here. We all accomplished something great for ourselves and for our families. Some of us are first-generation graduates or the first of our community to travel outside the country. Some of us published research papers in renowned journals or had a hand in passing important bills.

In our time of mass isolation, we must remember that we are still united. We still experienced the nightlife together, and drank coffee together at the same places, and found $20 Tuesdays at the local tattoo parlor.

Amid crises, we are the change-makers, the self-starters, the creative geniuses, the leaders, the wonks.

We are not the class of tragedy, but the class of resilience. We are the class that comes together, even when we're forced apart.

Ashlyn Peter is a senior at American University School of Communication in Washington, D.C.