Illustration by Shenuka Corea.

Gratitude for the Four Years That Were

My friends and I did not get to see the world, with the sole exception of a wonderful study-away semester in New York. But if we could not see the world, we got to see its closest approximation at NYUAD.

May 9, 2022

As we lay on our respective beds in a small NYU London dorm in March 2020, my roommate and I could not stop coughing. We were not too worried, still infected with the hopeless delusion that we could not have Covid-19 if we had not traveled to China or Italy.
So instead of worrying, we dreamt. We dreamt about all the places we would go over the next two years. We dreamt of the rest of our semester in London, which had barely begun before this ailment. We dreamt about the weekend Europe trips that were to follow — Spain one week, France another, Hungary for Spring Break. We dreamt about the summer, where both of us had secured exciting research opportunities in the US. We dreamt of our remaining J-Term, which presented another opportunity to travel in the region. We dreamt of football matches, concerts and in-person events across the globe. We dreamt about the following semester, which we were going to spend in New York. As was the case for NYUAD classes before us, the world was our oyster and NYUAD was going to help us consume it.
As you can imagine, none of our best-laid plans came to fruition. We spent the next two weeks coughing for longer than we expected and as soon as our infection subsided, we were whisked back home. You know how the rest of the story goes.
If someone would have told me this sequence of events in March 2020, I would have likely registered this as a sob story; the loss of a NYUAD experience that never was and the disappearance of the elixir of an unrecoverable youth. But as I look back on my four years, the overwhelming emotion I have is not disappointment, but gratitude.
Gratitude for the ability to return to campus in Fall 2020 and help build the friendships and relationships that had been left in a lurch before the pandemic. Gratitude for the small scenes of socialization that we enjoyed that semester; the simple pleasures of gathering in groups of four. Gratitude for online classes taken together in our dorms, separated only by the walls of our rooms. Gratitude for socially distanced meals and masked walks on the high line. Gratitude for the small conversations with contracted colleagues. Gratitude for friends that created the space to reminisce together about what we had lost in the past, to be anxious together about a future that was uncertain and to somehow still manage to appreciate the tenuous present. Gratitude for the ability to visit the city, chat over karak on car hoods and fall in love in the process. Gratitude for the simplest and most important college experiences. Gratitude for the fact that as the campus center closed down, residential dorms stayed open; both literally and figuratively. To paraphrase a former editor-in-chief of the publication, as the glowy, showy parts of the NYUAD experience frittered away, all that was left were the people.
Over the past two years, writers in The Gazelle, including myself, have repeatedly framed the pandemic as a test for NYUAD’s founding ideals; an assessment of whether the promise of a global, holistic and inclusive education could survive the brutality of Covid-19. And at one level, the university has catastrophically failed. The tale of Covid-19 at NYUAD could very easily be the story of an administration that floundered at every challenge, showing an appalling lack of empathy for a student body lurched into crisis. It is the story of an administration that saw the loss of stipends as pocket money, made no effort to stand in solidarity with Palestine and regularly made this campus a harder place to exist for those without privilege, especially students with disabilities. With the notable exception of organizing a return to campus in Fall 2020, the highest echelons of administration repeatedly failed to live up to the ideals that they were hired to protect.
But the story that I will most remember is the story of how NYUAD’s ideals were upheld, not by study aways or J-Term, but by the contracted colleagues whose generosity in time and patience went far beyond their responsibilities, by students who may not be featured in administration brochures, but who never failed to practice the daily gestures of care that tenuously kept this campus together. They were sustained by faculty members who may not have had the highest citation numbers but who never lost the ability to empathize and the staff members who worked tirelessly to repair the harm that had been caused by those paid more than them. My friend and I did not get to see the world, with the sole exception of a wonderful study-away semester in New York. But at the risk of sounding like an admissions brochure, if we could not see the world, we got to see its closest approximation at NYUAD.
And perhaps that is the pandemic’s most lasting lesson for this university. The ambitious idealism of the university left its administration’s offices a long time ago. It can now only be sustained by those of us lucky enough to have been touched by it.
Abhyudaya Tyagi is Editor-in-Chief. Email him at
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