The week leading up to the pandemic was my first time being a teaching assistant for Dr. Treuer in the Elementary Ojibwe language classes. Once the pandemic hit in the United States, we were notified that classes were not going to resume on campus until further notice.
Bemidji State campus has become my second home, and the Indigenous Studies department at BSU is a total family. Consequently, the lockdown made me feel like I was unable to return home and wasn’t able to see my other family. I was selfishly annoyed because I wanted everything to go back to normal.
There was no level of certainty in a life that I worked diligently to create for certain, and it began to explode this new level of anxiety that I wasn’t accustomed to. Every day I feared for my family, friends, Ojibwe communities and all communities throughout Indian country. My struggle wasn’t about my 16-credit course load, it was dealing with high levels of anxiety and still having to perform academically.
Normally, Indigenous students begin with a subset of unique challenges in post-secondary. But I know for many of us, the pandemic was another layer of pressure and worry. Every day after the lockdown, I was dragging myself to the finish line because there was no answer — everything was uncertain for everyone.
The day that I turned in my last final will remain the proudest moment of my undergraduate career. My grades were posted soon after, and they reflected a perfect grade point average. Finally, I was able to take a deep breath, then sit back and reflect on a challenging time in my life.
Today, I am an incoming senior and will begin the final chapter of my undergraduate through online instruction. During our summer break, I have spent time compartmentalizing how to deal with anxiety while having to perform academically. It’s been weeks of reflection, growth and acceptance.
A conceptualization of the finish line for my undergraduate has always been the graduation commencement. Today it remains uncertain if my mother will be able to watch her youngest daughter walk across the stage with her Bachelor of Arts degree in the spring. Although, now I understand the bigger picture of what it truly means to live in a community.
When you live in a community, you live for other people, because that’s what families do. The well-being and health of our community members means more to me than anything in the world. Adjustments will always be made on my end for the betterment of other people, even if it means learning how to let go of things that I thought that I once needed. Pandemics are a short snippet of the human experience, but how we respond to the well-being of others lasts forever.
About the author
Serena Graves is an enrolled member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. Serena is a senior at Bemidji State University, majoring in Indigenous Studies and minoring in Ojibwe language. She is also a scholar in the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Program.