If you would’ve told me four years ago that a global pandemic would prevent me from walking across the stage to receive my diploma, I would have laughed. But here I am, less than a month away from finishing my final semester at Catawba College, with no commencement date in site.
This semester was supposed to be the best one yet. I had saved the best for last. As a member of the Catawba Women’s Soccer team, my previous seven semesters were extremely busy. I had at least 15 credit hours a semester working towards my degree in Integrated Marketing Communications all while playing soccer and staying involved on campus. My final semester would be the first time that I did not have to make a schedule around soccer. This was the first time in 17 years that I have not played soccer and I had never had so much free time in my life. My teammates and I had time to go out and eat, or spend all afternoon at Koco Java doing homework, or play sand volleyball on the brand-new courts. Thankfully, we got to enjoy some of these things, but we didn’t know that the last time we did these things would be the last time ever. We also missed our last Catawba Palooza, senior athletic dinner, and other activities surrounding commencement.
Not the Ending We Were Expecting
When all this began in March, I never expected this. My friends around me were excited that classes were being cancelled and that the entire college was on the verge of closing for the semester, but the last thing I felt was excitement. I was nervous, sad, and terrified that there was chance I would never step foot on this campus again as a student. What if I never saw some of my friends again? I knew that eventually I would have to face this harsh reality that comes with graduating college, but I never expected to have it taken from me so suddenly. When it was officially announced that we needed to leave campus, things became a blur. My roommate had two days to pack all of her belongings to move back to California, I also had to pack to return home to Davidson, all the while, being bombarded with questions from my loved ones, my friends, and emails from faculty five times a day telling us not to worry. Before I knew it, I was back home in my childhood bedroom that was now cluttered with my belongings from my school apartment.
I remember the first night home I sat in my bed, looked at my things scattered around my room and thought “What now?”. There was nothing normal about this situation. For the past four years, I have been used to being able to walk down the hall to see my friends, and now I have no idea when I will see them next, if ever again.
To help keep me sane, I learned quickly that I needed a routine to keep me from wasting away days on social media. Keeping a normal sleep schedule has been the most beneficial part of my routine. I try to get into bed around 10:30 every night and wake up by 9:00 a.m. at the latest. I tend to be more productive in the mornings so I try to work on school assignments after eating breakfast. It’s been beautiful the past few weeks, so I have been spending as much time as possible outdoors. I take my laptop outside to work every chance I get, so I am not stuck at my kitchen table all day. Staying active has also been important in my new schedule. My dogs are probably sick of me being home so much because of how many walks we now go on. Something that simple can help pass an hour of your day, and give you an easy form of exercise.
First Week: A New Life at Home
My first week at home consisted of me unpacking, cleaning, adjusting my room to fit all my “college stuff” that I brought home with me. Classes had been cancelled for the week, but thankfully my internship allowed me to continue to work remotely. It almost felt like a second Spring Break, but with a constant anxious feeling in my stomach. I tried to stay busy by reading, sitting outside in my hammock to enjoy the weather, and try and do something active every day. My mom, dad, and brother were still working at this time, so I spent my days at home alone. This was a very drastic change from the busy life I had at Catawba, seeing people everywhere I went. I started missing my friends fast!
Second Week: Classes Begin Again
Week two, classes started again. Now remember, at this point there was still the hope that we would return to campus in a few weeks once all of this blew over. Little did we know that wouldn’t happen. All my professors sent email after email with their new class structure, assignments, answers to questions that they received throughout the day. I only have three professors this semester and I was overwhelmed. I can’t imagine how someone with a full course load was feeling. However, I will say that my professors have been amazing and so helpful during this time, and I know they’re doing everything they can. Finals are quickly approaching (which is insane) and many of my classes have assigned group projects as our final. For one of my classes, I have a group member that lives in England! Of course, when these projects were assigned, no one would have ever expected us to be in this current situation, but here we are. This has been a serious challenge for our group. I also have a friend that lives in Australia where there is a 14-hour time difference. For example, we would normally have our online class at 2 p.m. in America. Now that she is back home, this class is at 4 a.m. Now that everyone has their own schedules, group projects, or meetings with teachers, everything has become a major challenge.
Third Week: My Outside Life Turned into My Inside Life
Week three, I was starting to adjust and create a routine for myself. Some mornings I wake up to work on assignments until my live class discussions started, and some mornings I wake up to work remotely for my internship. After I have attended class, or completed my work for the morning, that is when I relax. When it is nice out, I lay by the pool (by myself of course), read, clean, workout, basically anything that is for me. I’ve realized how important it is to take time for yourself during this crisis to preserve your mental health. Journaling is also a great way to pass the time. If you’re like me and have spent a good bit of this quarantine home alone, writing is a great way to express yourself and get your thoughts on paper and out of your head. Getting out of bed and getting dressed has also been a key part of my routine. This seems ridiculous but you have no idea how much of an impact it makes. Simply getting up, making my bed, and getting dressed prevents me from laying around the house all day in my pajamas.
A Blessing in Disguise
When thinking about this situation, it is easy to come at it with a glass half empty approach, but there are so many hidden positives that people are missing. I love to cook/bake and now I have the time to cook a different meal every night for my family to enjoy. I now have time to sit down and read a book. This is unheard of! Most importantly, I am now getting to spend lots and lots and LOTS of time with my family. I have been gone for the past four years now, so this part has been a blessing in disguise. This slowed pace of life has been a refreshing change for me so far.
There are still underlying fears being a graduating senior during this time. Where are we going to work if everything is closed down? Some of my friends that have had jobs locked down since the fall, are now scrambling to find an alternative. It is difficult enough for graduating seniors to find jobs straight out of college, and now we have to factor COVID-19 into the mix. One of my closest friends has even been laid off from her job in Charlotte before even starting. Some of my friends are going to finish classes in a few days and then what? There is no way of knowing what the future holds right now for any of us. I had not yet decided on my plans for after graduation, but now my options are limited. One plan was to move back home and find a local job until I could save up some money and move out. Another option was to look for a job in Charleston, South Carolina and move there for a new and exciting change. There are now so many things to consider that it is difficult to make this decision.
With so many uncertainties, there are many things that I am certain of and one of those is that I am going to Go Burrito when all of this is over. I can’t wait to order a huge burrito and a rice cereal treat from Abagail’s. Salisbury has become my second home and there are so many things that I am not prepared to leave just yet. The past four years have shown me a sense of community that I have never felt anywhere else. Salisbury may be small, but it is full of life and I am so thankful for the time I got to spend living there. I’ve made friends and connections that I will have for the rest of my life and memories that I will never forget.
Now all we can do is play the waiting game. There is no way to know what happens next for graduating seniors. We have to find the positives in this situation and trust the process. We aren’t alone in this and now we will forever be known as the #CoronaClassof2020.
For parents and caregivers around Rowan County, the Thursday morning following the close of the 2021-22 school year went one of two ways. The lucky clutched mugs of hot coffee, gazing dreamily on the sight of dozing children taking full advantage of one of summer break’s many perks: sleeping in.