“This is Fine.” Guest Post Michael Schlitzer, UMBC Data Science Graduate Student

I don’t know if you’re like me or not, but I’m a bit of an introvert, so the isolation that has been required by this pandemic hasn’t been too terrible for me.  I am very fortunate that I still have my job, classes, a family that is an endless source of amusement, a Netflix account, and my bicycle.  As an optimistic realist, I have sort of adopted this meme as my personal mantra as I have marched through each of the past 390+ days since campus closed: “This is fine”.

I had a chance to go back to the USG campus this week to record my part in this year’s USG graduation celebration ceremony — you definitely want to attend because we’ve got some great speakers! And then, it really hit me. This has not been fine! This has really been terrible! USG is such a beautiful campus and I felt like a sailor, seeing land again after a long, arduous sea voyage. I accomplished what I wanted to do, differently than I wanted to do it, but I did it!

I felt a wave of personal accomplishment, but then also a real sadness for what was lost due to COVID. I don’t think that my education suffered much, if at all, but I’ve been so consumed with trying to make it “fine” that I never even considered giving myself a moment to grieve, even in a small way and that bill came due this week.

Steve Simon and Kelly Le, the amazing marketing team at USG who bring you this and all the other blogs and communications from Shady Grove, have been vital human connections for me during this pandemic. They’ve made me, a boy from Baltimore, who, when I met a woman from Montgomery County at school in UCLA, said, in all seriousness — “I’ve heard of Montgomery County, but I don’t know that I know how to get there” — think and write about the impact that USG and Montgomery County have had in my life.

I purposely took the long way to campus, coming through Montgomery County through Frederick County and I paralleled the C&O Canal, and as my time at USG comes to a close. I’ll encourage you to get out and see that most unique National Park. The Park is 186 miles long and runs along a canal that was built before the railroad from Cumberland, MD to Georgetown in Washington DC; it’s a snapshot of American history from 230 years ago.

I’ve enjoyed it for years on two wheels, having ridden the entire thing, starting in the middle of the night in Cumberland, inadvertently chasing a beaver along a stone bridge abutment in the pitch black (you have NEVER seen a beaver move so fast in your life, I promise you), and having pounded out countless miles along River Road out to Poolesville, and on the climbs in and out of Riley’s Lock with my best friends of 20+ years.  But you don’t have to ride hard or throw a leg over a bike to enjoy this national treasure.

If you do get out to the C&O, I’d suggest that you get off your bike and take a look at one of the locks and walk around the lock keepers house and think about what it must have been like all those years ago.  Another place that I’d really recommend that you visit is the Monocacy River Aqueduct https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monocacy_Aqueduct.  An aqueduct is a bridge that carries water over another body of water, and, while there is no water in the aqueduct today, as you look down at the Monocacy, it’s hard to fathom the engineering ingenuity that allowed them to build that long before there were computers.

Now, my wife wanted me to tell you that it is technically possible to explore the C&O Canal without a bicycle and she tells me that it can even be fun.  But, I’m just going to have to take her at her word on that one.

Michael Schlitzer, UMBC Data Science Graduate Student and Dr. Anne Khademian, Executive Director at USG

Many of you will finish this semester, take a break, and then return to USG next year.  When you do get back on campus, be sure to seek out and say hello to Dr. Anne Khademian, USG’s new Executive Director. She started at USG in the middle of this pandemic and, while she’s been very busy and has done a great job, the emptiness of the building is just impossible to miss. I know that she’ll be really glad to see and hear you in the Fall when campus re-opens.

I’m just picturing that first day like a reverse “Good Night Moon”:  “Hello classroom!”  “Hello elevator that takes me to the third floor!”  “Hello Priddy Library!”  “Hello security guards!” “Hello USG!”.  I’m excited for you.

And I sort of envy you.

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