If you’re reading this, you’re probably about to start your freshman year of college either completely online or hybrid-based depending on your school’s guidelines. This isn’t anything you ever thought would happen. You never expected that your first month or even semester of college would be working from home. You looked forward to moving away from home, living with your roommate, meeting new people, and experiencing the firsts of college. You were excited about going to your first football game, your first college class, and your first college function. You were excited to decorate your room, find your best friends, and discover why college is “the best four years of your life.” But unfortunately, COVID-19 had other plans.

If we’re being honest, ever since this pandemic started, you have felt loss. You may have lost the high school graduation ceremony you wanted. Instead of walking across the stage, you may have walked across your living room floor. Your graduation party, if you had one, was probably turned into a drive by or cancelled all together. You didn’t get to celebrate such a momentous occasion like you wanted to. But you are not alone. Thousands of other high school students all across the country are feeling the same exact way as you are. You have all lost.

Now let me be clear when I say that there are many other people who may have been affected in even worse ways from COVID-19, and you might be one of them. You may be someone or know someone who has faced financial hardship or lost a family or friend to this pandemic. We have all lost.

But I want you to know that it’s okay to be sad about not being able to start your first year in college the way you wanted to. It’s okay to be disappointed with how your senior year ended and how COVID is affecting school this fall. Who ever thought we would be living through a pandemic? I sure didn’t.

Let’s face it, this fall is going to be different. Will it be uncomfortable to be stuck at home doing school? Most likely. Will it be awkward to meet your classmates over Zoom? Probably. Will some of you struggle and have to adjust with learning from behind a computer screen? Possibly. However, this won’t only be different for you, but it will be different for your teachers and friends too.

Different can be weird and even stressful. Sometimes, different can often cause us to say “this sucks.” I’m sure many of you are probably thinking the same thing right now. But your semester will only suck if you allow it to.

I often look at this whole situation like being thrown into a boxing ring. You may know about your opponent beforehand and what to expect, but you truly don’t know until you get in the ring. With online school and COVID, you only know so much. You know what you need to do to try to beat it, but there’s still a lot of unknowns that you won’t discover until you take on the challenge. You may get knocked a few times in places that are easy to brush off or in other areas where it really hurts. Whether that’s failing a quiz or test, struggling with the style of online school, or just dealing with COVID itself, some punches are harder than others. Regardless, you always get back up again. You always return for the fight. You may lose the first round, but you have the chance to make a comeback. And boy, when you make that comeback, the feeling of victory is so worth all the pain and hits you took to get there.

So I encourage you to take on the fight this semester. Jump into the ring, discover the unknowns of COVID and online school, take on the punches and failures you may get hit with, and get back up again. Don’t give up. Take on the challenge and fight for the comeback. Trust me, I’ve been in the ring before and can honestly tell you that the comeback is what matters.

Like I said before, this school year is going to be different. But I encourage you to embrace it. Embrace the fear of the unknown. Embrace the challenges that may come with virtual learning and run with it. Embrace the mentality that this semester will NOT suck as long as you don’t let it. Anticipate that the start of your college career will be unlike anything you ever imagined and be ready for it. Trust your abilities, lean on others for support, and have hope that something good can come from this unusual situation.

I wish you all the best with your fall semester. It may not be how you wanted to start college, but remember, you can do this.