[Main photo, L-R: Ellie Harrison '21, Phanésia Pharel '21, Agie Neneh Sissoho '21]
Being a Barnard student in 2021 looks a lot different than it did in 2017, and we have a journalistic time capsule to prove it. Every year since the fall of 2017, a select group of students from the Class of 2021 have shared their personal experiences as Barnard students in an ongoing online diary series. They’ve been candid about time-management struggles, finding their voice in New York City, and how they created academic and creative pathways for themselves.
Now as graduating seniors, Ellie Harrison, Phanésia Pharel, and Agie Neneh Sissoho look back at the past four years, including what they will miss most, and look forward to in life after Barnard. They even have a message for the incoming first-years who will join the Class of 2025.
Ellie Harrison ’21
I learned quite a bit about how I learn and work in a fully-remote setting. This past semester, I was writing my thesis on top of all my usual coursework, so it was a lot of finding pockets of time for work and relaxing. It really is a matter of balance. I started to keep all my deadlines on a big calendar so I could anticipate where those pockets of work and fun would be each week. It really helped me to figure out how best to pace myself for the marathon of my last semester so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. Spreading things out is key. I also learned the importance of a designated workspace. When living in a dorm, I would do work wherever there was space in my room, often ending up with my bed being covered in assignments and books. This semester, I built a desk and really dedicated myself to using it, which helped me get into the headspace for working. I don’t really like being in an all-online environment, but I found a way to do well and stay on top of things, which was really important to me. I also found time between papers to write and record an EP and an album, and get a driver’s license, which was absolutely bonkers.
Something my mom and I talked about a lot when I would get overwhelmed or frustrated was that nothing lasts. Every moment passes, and life goes on. There are moments that live within you forever, and there are moments that will fade in time. I’ve come to call the moments that last 20-year memories. It was a concept introduced to me at camp that essentially means that in 20 years you can look back and still know every detail of the memory and the names of whoever was there with you. Obviously, college is no exception. There are moments from my time at Barnard that I will look back on in 20 years and remember as vividly as if they were five minutes ago, but this time in my life is the starting point for whatever is next. It’s been a memorable way to finish college for sure.
I plan to go to graduate school in the post-COVID-19 world, and I want to work in education, whether that’s in a classroom or in a museum. I’ll work at camp again next summer as the assistant to the director. The key thing I’ve learned in the past year is to roll with the punches. My last year of Barnard has taught me that I can get through uncertainty, even though I don’t enjoy uncertainty. In terms of celebration, I’ve taken a month off from the real world. I know there can’t really be a fun, big celebration and that there isn’t really one for those who finish early, like I did in February, so I’m enjoying time off. My nightmares about missing a paper deadline have finally gone away!
Favorite Barnard memory
There are so many to choose from. There’s funnier ones, like my family staying up till midnight on decision day because of the time difference from Switzerland and me being so excited and tired I fell over. The memories I like the most are the ones where I learned something new. Every year, I taught myself a new, nonacademic skill. Freshman year was sewing and embroidery, sophomore year was making bread by hand and knitting, junior year was film photography and meal prepping, and this year I learned to drive. While these memories aren’t really typical classroom/on-campus interactions, they’re ones I treasure about my time at Barnard because of the feedback and encouragement I got from members of the community along the way. Whenever I was stuck or felt like I hadn’t made progress, someone would encourage me to try again and offer advice.
I’ve sorely missed the feeling of campus and feeling the Barnard community around me in a physical capacity.
To the Class of 2025
Be patient with yourself. It’s easy and normal to feel overwhelmed or behind, but take the time to let yourself learn. I promise in time you’ll feel more confident and capable of taking on new challenges. College is about learning, not about having to be the best all the time. When you take the time to learn, you grow more.
Phanésia Pharel ’21
I learned it is important for me to contend with my limitations in stressful situations. The isolation of studying from home and the pandemic are difficult without the rigorous coursework of Barnard. It really taught me to say no and to consider that there is always tomorrow when it comes to completing work. My favorite class was Black Girlhood in the U.S. Through Literature. Marsha Jean-Charles really pushed me to consider how I took care of myself. The most remarkable courses I’ve encountered at Barnard have been those with a throughline and Charles’ course was one of them. I came to understand that while Black women are often born and bred in painful circumstances, it is our responsibility to heal ourselves and to not replicate the harm that we encountered. This has made me a gentler person, and I can listen to others and try to understand their perspective. Jean-Charles’ emphasis on self-care led to my own personal research on burnout, and I’ve discovered that I need to challenge my relationship to work.
It was difficult not having campus resources, and adulting while being a college student was a challenge, yet I am developing habits that I am proud of. I am still overcoming the stress of navigating this tough year. I am trying to hold myself accountable through doing the work, consistent care, and holding gentle expectations for such a turbulent time. Last year was one of the most challenging years of my life, but I’m grateful because of how much I’ve grown.
One of the last things I’ve been considering is overcompensation. For so long in my life I felt that I had to work my way to validity. The “you gotta work twice as hard for half of what other people have” nonsense really affected my mental health. Now I’m realizing that true confidence is quiet, that I am enough regardless of my work, and that my personal goal is that my work must come from a place of truth.
On one hand, I need this semester to end! On another hand, I’m sad. There are numerous missed connections and losses due to the COVID semester. I know that life outside of Barnard will be beautiful, and I look forward to staying involved as an alumna through mentorship or whatever ways I can, as it’s our community and it means so much to me. I am very happy to have attended my dream school. Deep down, I know that I lived my life to the fullest at Barnard, and this includes a surplus of mistakes and lessons learned. One aspect of our community that I will never forget is how we let the members of our community be imperfect. I am working past my perfectionist tendencies, and I am so happy that I was held in a forgiving community in my young adulthood. The growth of my peers has taught me that we all deserve the room to grow. In terms of work, I’m currently a teaching artist, and I’m very busy with writing stuff. I will take a brief break from work when I graduate. I intend to continue my work with viBe Theater and write plays.
I want to celebrate my graduation with pizza and a visit to my hometown, Miami. I wrote a capsule for myself freshman year during a Well-Woman activity that I will open as soon as I finish. I’m eager to know what I said because I miss parts of my younger self. I wish I kept a diary. I will also visit a friend in Los Angeles because I will be moving there as soon as we go back to work in-person. I’m hoping that I can squeeze in a trip to Paris and Morocco before the year ends too, keeping COVID in mind!
I was recently promoted to the role of program director with viBe Theater. I also signed my first professional contract for a commission of a new play with Thrown Stone Theatre! I am really excited to keep writing professionally. Every year I am surprised about the opportunities I am offered, so I can only imagine what is going to happen in the next year.
Favorite Barnard memory
The story of my acceptance. My best friend knew how anxious I was, so we watched Moana at my local movie theatre. We were enjoying it, and halfway through I checked the time. We looked at each other and knew it was time. I checked my email, saw my acceptance, and we screamed. We ran around the movie theatre and apologized to the innocent [people] watching the movie.
I miss connecting with the community, walking to Chipotle from class, and office hours with my favorite professors. I will miss the sunflower nut butter at Hewitt Dining Hall. I will miss waking up in my Hewitt room and feeling at peace and home. I will miss bumping into random people and having spontaneous conversations. I will miss the French fries! I will miss Dr. Ann Engelland, MJ Murphy, A-J Aronstein, Nanette DiLauro, and so many of the other staff members. I will miss the dining hall staff.
To the Class of 2025
Enjoy every moment because it will go by fast. It’s easy to get caught up in the anxious loop of college. Trust that you are more than enough and enjoy where you are.
Agie Neneh Sissoho ’21
I learned how to set boundaries for myself. Since my house has also become the place where I go to school, I had to find a work-life balance. Additionally, I learned to multitask by focusing on school and helping out my family. The most challenging part was finding the motivation I needed to focus on my coursework. It was hard to find a quiet place to study because of my siblings or mother asking me for help with their own work and house chores. The best thing I could do was try my hardest to focus and hope for the best or even wake up earlier than usual to do some work with limited distractions.
My favorite class during the fully-remote fall 2020 semester was Dance Composition. Since I was at home, I barely got exercise. However, with Dance Comp, I was able to choreograph my own piece with a close friend, Hawa, and move about. It was a very nice distraction from everything happening with COVID.
I am excited and nervous about graduating. I am excited to be done with the stress of coursework; however, I am nervous to go out in the “real world” and start working. Barnard has been a bubble that I have gotten used to, but leaving the bubble feels nerve-wracking, especially without having my friends around as often as I’m used to. As of now, though, I am spending as much time as I can with my friends and taking in as much of Barnard as possible.
My post-graduation plan is to take two to three gap years before medical school to continue doing research. Barnard, especially the Summer Research Institute (SRI), has helped to give me the exposure I need to research. The classes I have taken have also prepared me for ways to read and present scientific documents. I have been reaching out to those in the Barnard network to apply for research opportunities. I would like to celebrate the end of my college journey by receiving my diploma and celebrating with my friends after finally reaching the finish line.
Memorable Barnard moment
My favorite Barnard memory was when I had my first suitemate dinner sophomore year on the night of September 21. It was very fun to interact and get to know them. Additionally, I remember letting myself come out of my comfort zone and socializing and even listening and feeling nostalgic about the music we used to listen to as kids. It was a fun event to just be free and [made it possible to] get to know the people that have been an integral part of my experience at Barnard even today.
Gosh, there are a lot of things I will miss: my underclassmen friends, the Opportunity Program, the staff at Hewitt and Diana Center, the RA community, Beyond Barnard. Sitting at Diana LL1 for hours doing nothing. There is so much to name.
To the Class of 2025
Do not limit yourself. Make sure to explore everything, whether it is a class that sounds weird or going to a variety of events that are on campus. Do not push everything to your final year because you never know what might happen. I remember as an underclassman, I always told myself that I had my senior year to explore everything on campus. But COVID changed those plans. Just live in the moment, and don’t push things to the end.