USC Student Voices on Senior Year

By Veronica Sundin, Brianneth Rocha, Lauren Anderson, Sara Ta and Jasmine Zahedi

[16 minute read]

Editor’s Note

This year has been full of unusual circumstances. The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the academic and professional trajectories of many people’s lives, and has put all of us in a position where we are apt to feel loneliness, confusion, and impatience. Time indoors and to ourselves, something which we once looked forward to as respite from a bustling life, has become the norm. What makes these circumstances particularly hard is the isolating effect they can have on us. College students in particular, going through a time when they feel they should be experiencing life to the fullest, feel the isolating effects of the pandemic. However, sometimes as college students we forget that we are not alone in this situation, and sometimes hearing the experiences of others can make us feel a bit better about the reality we are still learning to come to terms with. Below, five USC seniors share their thoughts on what it is like to be a senior in this time, and share tips on how to adjust and find solace.

-Natalie Grace Sipula, Editor

My Unusual Senior Year Experience at USC

By Veronica Sundin

As a transfer student from a small community college in Texas, I was so excited to experience everything USC and Los Angeles had to offer. First of all, I would be moving from a small town in East Texas of about 15,000 people to a huge city of nearly 4 million. On top of that, I had been attending community college for 3 years and I was excited and ready for the challenge I knew I would be thrown into in classes at USC. I grew up in this same area in Texas for most of my life, and though I knew I loved being in big cities, I hadn’t had the chance to live in one just yet. I was excited to experience the culture and scenery of Los Angeles, and to really kickstart my academic career at USC.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

I transferred in the fall of 2019 and, probably unlike most students, I was excited for school to start. I couldn’t wait to see where my huge intro to IR lecture was going to be held, or to begin completing hard assignments for my classes. Attending USC was the academic and personal challenge I had been craving for most of my life, and certainly for the 3 years prior to coming to LA. I got involved with organizations and events on campus, started making friends in my classes, and began exploring all the parts of LA I had dreamed of visiting my whole life. Between going to Salsa nights hosted by USC Break On 2, the Salsa dance team on campus, attending tailgates, football games, and concerts on campus, and hiking up to the Hollywood sign, I was living a life I was happy with and was so ecstatic that I would be able to do it for another four semesters as I finished my degree at USC.

Of course, everyone’s plans changed when COVID-19 hit in the Spring of 2020. I remember packing up my suitcase to go back home to Texas and just wishing and hoping that I would be back on campus and in Los Angeles soon. Having to adapt to taking classes on Zoom and not being able to interact with my peers in person was really hard, especially as I did it from my childhood home in East Texas, when all I wanted to do was to enjoy the big city life that I had been craving for so long. I missed the California beaches, discovering all of the delicious food and culture around Los Angeles, getting coffee in the USC Village, and hanging out with my friends after class. Finishing up my first year at USC when I had only experienced very little of it on campus was very strange, and I knew in my heart that would probably be the reality of the rest of the time I attended USC.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

As I started my senior year at USC, I was more familiar with how remote classes would work on Zoom, so at least I had that out of the way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t upset when I realized that my one semester that I got on campus in the fall of 2019 at USC would most likely be all I ever got to experience in-person. Despite this, I was determined to make the most of my senior year at USC. I was still studying at an incredible university, with all of the tools and resources that I needed to be successful at my disposal, and now I had professors who were willing and eager to help their students out in any way they needed. I found that my professors were a bit more understanding in knowing that their students were learning and doing their best under very strange circumstances. I joined more organizations on campus and around LA, such as CALPIRG (the California Public Interest Research Group), and got more involved at ALI (which I have loved and have been very thankful for!) Despite all odds, I still wanted to make my senior year as memorable and fun as possible. Although it’s not quite the year I wanted to have, I am so thankful for the opportunities that I did have while on campus at USC. This experience has taught me, above all else, to cherish every moment you have where you are. Don’t wish your time away or worry too much about the future, because you never know if you’re going to get to re-live what you’re experiencing right now!

USC: An Experience Like No Other

By Brianneth Rocha

My time at USC has been the most rewarding, challenging, and exciting period of my academic career. I have been a Trojan for three years now, and it feels like just yesterday I was moving onto campus for the Summer Bridge Program. My senior year experience is a bit unlike that of my peers, as my time at USC will not be ending this spring in the midst of the pandemic. I, like many students, didn’t start college with my current major. I was a pre-med student majoring in Health and Human Sciences, and I later added Environmental Studies as a second major to fuel my interest in the environment. Soon after, I realized that I wanted to leave my impact on the world by strengthening environmental conservation. During the fall semester of my sophomore year I began to research graduate programs, and learned that USC has progressive degree programs. I was accepted into the progressive degree program the next semester, and I am now extending my time at USC to pursue an MA in Environmental Studies. However, I still can’t believe how little time I have left, and I am unsure if an opportunity like this would have presented itself the way it did at another university.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

This past year didn’t go as I expected. A cliché, I know, but there is no better way to describe it. Who would have foreseen that college students would go through multiple semesters of online courses? Navigating the world of Zoom was an initial challenge, but one which has allowed me to explore many new talents, projects, and reflect on my life, but I’ll be honest—while I have learned a lot by reflecting on everything that happened in 2020, it took me many months to reach that state. The first month of quarantine felt like a much-needed vacation, but that quickly changed. Being someone that enjoys the outdoors, I developed strong symptoms of cabin fever. I felt anxious, claustrophobic, unmotivated, and impatient. Since all my summer plans were canceled, I had nothing to keep my mind busy, making it hard for me to escape the feelings. I think my main problem was that I had the wrong mindset at the time. I kept seeing the situation as; “I am stuck at home” rather than “I have the opportunity to focus on myself”. But with changes to my daily routine, I found the right attitude to become a better homebody. It helped to take up hobbies and small projects. I believe it is important to openly discuss these challenges because I know I wasn’t alone.

The essential tool I’ve gained in adapting to online learning is keeping an organized schedule. While in some ways not having to get ready and walk to class is a blessing, not having that structure can make it difficult to find motivation. To get out of a rut, I created a routine to give my life a stronger sense of productivity. Most days I wake up around 7:30 AM and get ready for the day as if I had to go to morning classes (even though I only have afternoon and evening classes). Dressing up to “go to school” can simply mean switching into another set of sweatpants and a hoodie. Then, I have breakfast to start my day on a good note. For anyone dealing with a lack of energy, I recommend starting a realistic workout schedule. I do emphasize the “realistic” part of it. A workout schedule is something to build up to if you want to be successful. I turn on an audiobook to do something I enjoy (read) while getting some much-needed exercise. Another challenge of online courses is the exhaustion that comes with being on camera. This semester I have found it helpful taking brief breaks from being on video throughout lectures. It allows me to stretch and relax a bit. I also purchased a monitor to improve my study space. When people say once you get a monitor you don’t want to go back, they are right. This semester, I have a remote internship in addition to all my long online courses, and having a monitor has completely changed the game; back and neck pain are now problems of the past. While online classes make networking and getting to know peers feel less personal, having access to recorded meetings has made keeping up with info sessions and workshops better suited for any schedule. In the past, being someone that always scheduled classes from morning to afternoon, I had to miss many events that I wanted to attend, and now I don’t have to!

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Although the pandemic has made the college experience less enjoyable in some respects, it is only a small part of my experience at USC, and it doesn’t taint the many positive experiences I have had. USC prides itself on inclusivity and diversity; something I have experienced myself. I am a first-generation student of Mexican heritage with a visual impairment. There have been many obstacles throughout my education, but I have always been able to overcome them by remaining determined and true to myself. I have found great support at USC. In searching for the right university for me, I looked for a campus that acknowledged the diversity of their students, whether it was through their courses, programs, clubs, advisors, etc. I have always found faculty and peers to be respectful of the accommodations I receive. Professors that I have had have always been knowledgeable about the issues facing minority communities; something which I deeply value, and makes engaging in my education so much more rewarding. USC has prepared me to ask the difficult questions and take initiative to achieve the change I want to happen.

For some final words of advice, I would say remember to stop and live in the moment. Undergrad, like high school, will fly by. While focusing on giving my classes maximum effort, sometimes I forgot that my life shouldn’t be all about school; it is about strengthening my relationships and exploring my interests. When it comes to having a difficult time with a course, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Professors make assignments challenging to make students think and open their minds to new perspectives, not to make you fail. USC has many resources to aid students through difficult classes and establish productive habits. I am thankful for my time at USC thus far and look forward to the time I have left. And remember once a student at USC, you are always part of the Trojan family. Fight on!

A Brief Guide to Combatting Senioritis

By Lauren Anderson

After working so hard for so long, it is only natural to be exhausted by the time senior year rolls around. Sometimes this exhaustion is reflected in lower levels of motivation and an overly relaxed mindset. Senioritis is a term used to describe this lack of motivation that occurs in your last year of college. After all, senior year is a time to relax and take a break, right? Well, there are still exams, essays, and assignments that must be completed before you are able to graduate. To combat these low levels of motivation, here is a guide to balancing your school life and personal life while suffering from some of the common symptoms of senioritis.

Take easy classes

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It’s your last year of school; hopefully, you got all of those difficult courses out of the way earlier on so you could take it easy for your last semester. Even loading your schedule with a bunch of electives can turn out to be stressful, so try to take classes that do not require a lot of energy if you feel yourself losing motivation. Of course, everyone has a different idea of what an “easy” class is. If you are one to skip class, do not take courses that require attendance. If you are one to avoid studying for exams, try to pick classes that have fewer exams over the semester. If you hate essays, do not take courses that have multiple essays and writing assignments. If you do not like doing readings, pick a course that has lighter readings and does not require expensive textbooks. You know yourself as a student by now. Make your life easier by looking into syllabi before committing to classes.   

Keep yourself busy

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When you give yourself an abundance of time to relax, this often makes it way more difficult to complete schoolwork. If after class you immediately turn on Netflix, you will find that the assignment you have looming over you is not going to finish itself by its deadline. The best way to combat this is to stay a little bit busy. If you have a part-time job, for instance, you may use the gap you have after class and before work to get that assignment done or study for an exam. Also, if you have to balance a schedule, you will likely check your schedule more often and stay on top of deadlines. This helps create healthy habits to keep powering through.

Change up your study setting

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By the time senior year rolls around, endless nights studying in the same place can get old. A good way to feel more motivated to get work done is to try out a new study setting. There are plenty of cafes and coffee shops in Los Angeles that are quiet and peaceful to study in, and this could be a good way to explore the city more before graduating (while staying socially distanced, of course!). Studying outside is a great alternative during quarantine, especially because you can get some fresh air and remain distant from others.

Take breaks and Have fun

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Do work, then reward yourself with fun activities! A weekend trip with friends is a great way to reward yourself and all the hard work you have done over the years. Just try not to get too caught up having fun and forget about the remaining assignments you have to complete.

Happy graduation everyone! I wish you the best of luck completing your degree program, whether you are a senior or not. Try to not let senioritis get in the way of school, but also take the time to enjoy yourself. This school year has been pretty unusual, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take pride in finishing your degree this year!

The Reflections of a Graduating Senior: COVID-19 Edition

By Sarah Ta

If you had told me as a freshman that I would be finishing up the last year and a half of my degree in my childhood bedroom, I never would have believed that it was due to a worldwide pandemic. When commencement ceremonies were canceled for last year’s graduating class, I felt so sorry for their loss. Every student looks forward to their graduation as a day to celebrate all of their years of hard work, surrounded by their friends and family. Watching a live stream from their laptop at home could never compare to the pride they’d feel walking across the stage. I remember thinking that it was truly unfortunate for their time at USC to end on such an anticlimactic note. However, as I prepare for my own graduation after a whole year of online classes, I can’t help but think that the previous graduating class might not have had it so bad after all.

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The thing is, living at home is not something I can complain about. I have a stable roof over my head, I don’t have to worry about cooking my own food, and I have a warm bed to sleep in at night. I might come from a working-class family, but I have a quiet bedroom that I can attend online lectures from. Not having to worry about finances and being able to put my full attention towards my coursework is a privilege that many others don’t have right now, and I am aware of how lucky I am to be in this position. However, this doesn’t take away from the disappointment I feel about having to spend the entirety of my senior year in my bedroom. This disappointment comes with a heavy sense of guilt, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel any sadness about losing everything I had been looking forward to doing before I left USC.

The independence you get from living on your own is something you can never achieve when living in your parent’s house. No matter how much space you try to give each other, it’s only a matter of time before you fall back into old habits. I love my parents dearly and am super thankful to them for taking care of me, but it’s hard to learn how to be my own person when I am still actively playing the role of their child. This back and forth between feeling grateful for my situation and mourning the loss of my senior year is exhausting enough as it is, but not knowing how long this will continue for makes it so much worse. Assuming I manage to find a job after graduation (which is a whole other source of stress on its own), it would likely be a remote position so I would be working from home. This means that no matter how much I’ve dreamed of moving out and getting my own apartment after graduation, it would make absolutely no sense for me to do so.

Photo by Seema Miah on Unsplash

The loss of my senior year is minuscule compared to the loss of my independence as a college graduate, yet it’s something that’s completely out of my hands. Still, staying home for the past year and potentially longer isn’t something I will ever regret or feel too bitter about. The pandemic has taken millions of people’s lives and affected millions more, and if my staying home prevented even one person from losing a loved one to the virus, how can I regret that? Graduating from my childhood bedroom and working from my parent’s home for the next few years might not have been the ideal start to my early 20’s, but I have my whole life ahead of me. Worrying about something that can’t be helped will only cause unnecessary stress, and with everything that’s happened the past year, I think I have enough to last me for a very long time.

Senior Year Thoughts

By Jasmine Zahedi

I would be lying if I said I’m completely ready to graduate. I’m not. With less than a year left in my undergraduate career, I often find myself reflecting on the past and thinking about the future. There’s so much I have yet to figure out and so much I want to do. It’s especially hard when almost all the conversations I have with my friends revolve around salaries, jobs, and what cities we’re going to move to post-graduation. Unlike many of my friends, I don’t know where I’ll be, and I probably won’t know until late spring. I could end up anywhere: Taiwan, Los Angeles, DC. Who knows?

Photo by Paul Gilmore on Unsplash

Though my future may be uncertain, there’s one thing I know for sure: I’m going to take advantage of my last year at USC. So far I think I’ve done a fairly good job; I went up to San Francisco for the Weekender for the first time in all my four years. I attended Own It, USC’s inaugural women’s leadership summit. I’ve also been stepping out of my comfort zone and starting conversations with my classmates. There’s also a lot that I still want to accomplish, like going to one last home football game and taking a picture on top of Traveler.

However, when I think about my experience so far, I can’t help but smile. I had the best summer of my life interning in Taipei last year through the USC Global Fellows Internship Program. Last fall, I studied abroad in Shanghai and made so many lifelong friends. I also have the best on-campus job as a Conversation Partner, which allows me to share stories and experiences with international students. I am extremely thankful for the opportunities USC has provided me and I urge every student I meet to take advantage of everything our school has to offer.

Featured Image by Jane Carmona on Unsplash

Veronica is a senior majoring in International Relations. She was born in Tyler, Texas, and  raised in São Paulo, Brazil. Before transferring to USC, she attended Kilgore College in Kilgore, Texas, where she was a part of the school’s world-renowned dance team, the Kilgore College Rangerettes. She loves to listen to music, watch Forensic Files, learn about different countries and their cultures, and is proficient in Portuguese and Spanish. She is very excited to meet all the students at ALI and wishes them the best in their time at USC!

Brianneth is a senior majoring in Environmental Studies at the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. She is also pursuing a MA in Environmental Studies through the USC progressive-degree program. She was born and raised in the spectacular city of Los Angeles, so she is familiar with the city’s’ hidden gems. She thinks the best thing about LA is its diverse culture and of course, the amazing weather. During her free time, she enjoys taking road trips, watching movies, taking hikes, playing sports, and being creative. She is adventurous and always up to learning new skills. She enjoys embracing all the wonderful aspects of her Mexican-American culture and is fluent in the Spanish language. She is glad to have met many wonderful people at USC and is thrilled to help other students make their transitions enjoyable experiences.

Lauren is recent USC graduate who majored in Cultural Anthropology and minored in Environmental Studies. She grew up in Chicago, but moved to Huntington Beach during high school. Last year, she lived in Paris where she enjoyed traveling and learning new languages and cultures. She speaks French and some Italian. In her free time, she likes exploring LA, listening to music, reading, visiting museums, cooking new recipes, watching the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks games, and playing piano.

Sarah is a senior from the San Gabriel Valley studying GeoDesign. In her free time, she enjoys reading, exploring L.A., trying new foods, and of course, meeting new people. She can speak conversational Cantonese, and is currently learning Mandarin. Even though her Chinese is limited, that doesn’t stop her from striking up a conversation with other international students. She is always happy to learn about other cultures and can’t wait to meet you!

Jasmine is a student pursuing a major in Psychology and a double minor in Chinese for the Professions and Forensics and Criminality. Born and raised in Palos Verdes, a city about 45 minutes away from USC, Jasmine is extremely fond of hikes at sunset and the beach, where she loves playing beach volleyball. Growing up in a Chinese-Persian family is what initially sparked her interest in languages and the cultures of distant lands, particularly China and Iran. Jasmine has studied abroad in Shanghai, which not only helped her improve her Chinese, but also allowed her to eat xiaolongbao and drink boba to excess. While abroad in China, she developed lesson plans to teach English to fourth graders at migrant schools and realized how much she loves interacting with people of different cultures. In her free time, Jasmine loves finding new places to eat in LA, playing volleyball, and reminiscing about her travels through Southeast Asia.