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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Mar 27, 2020

Local College Senior Reflects on Learning, Graduating During a Pandemic

By Julia Mortimer

My senior year at Temple University was going swimmingly. It was the beginning of March, I was drinking wine in my apartment and pulling my hair out as I tried to complete agonizing group projects – business as usual. The lingering thoughts of graduation frequented my mind, reminding me to be grateful and appreciate these last few short months. Spring break approached. I spent it in Charleston, South Carolina for a long weekend, a last hoorah with a friend who attends the College of Charleston. As the date of the trip approached, social media became flooded with news about how the coronavirus was quickly sweeping the globe. I traveled south, and after a few days in sunny downtown Chucktown, it was back to reality, so back to Philly.

University after university began transitioning to online classes due to the pandemic. (Cue my thumb feverishly refreshing my inbox, awaiting the email that would force me back to New Jersey and disrupt the last weeks of college I had left.) Despite the disruption, I was relieved to know that the colleges were working to ensure the safety of students, staff and the public, to fight the virus, in turn, flatten the curve. The email from Temple’s dean of students arrived stating that we will be transitioning to all online courses beginning March 16. I naively (or maybe in denial) packed a few things, thinking I’d be back in Philly in the next two or three weeks, unbeknownst to me I wouldn’t be completing my senior year in the City of Brotherly Love .

I am now back home in New Jersey with my parents, brother, sister and two dogs. In my house, the news is on in a constant loop, adding to the situational anxiety many of us are feeling. If I had a dollar everytime the words “pandemic,” “wash your hands,” “social distance” and “coronavirus” were said, I could single handedly fix the economy. Remember when “corona” only prompted thoughts of that beer that you’d sip on at the beach? Now, hearing the word gives way to a sense of panic, as a bottle of Lysol is whipped out of my back pocket.

If the word “zoom” is also a trigger for you, as it has become for me, I’m so sorry. Zoom is a video communication software, which is now where all of my learning takes place. Each week day, I get ready for class. I get dressed, slip on my shoes and my backpack. I then take my mind-numbingly long commute of one grueling step to my desk. I open my laptop to be greeted with a 13-inch screen meant to act as replacement to my once-engaged and communal classroom experience. Here’s a short play-by-play of how a Zoom class goes for the majority of my courses: Professor gets frustrated at Zoom, students try to help, professor gets frustrated again because the audio isn’t cooperating, professor attempts to begin the lecture, but here’s the catch. The audio cuts out so I hear the beginning of his thought and one word from the end of his thought. I have yet to master filling in the blanks. Zoom lectures have become a frustrating and less-than-humorous version of MadLibs. I truly can’t imagine how difficult it must be to teach students in such times. A message to the teachers and professors: thank you so much for your efforts and patience.

Thankfully, between classes and the news, I had been distracted from thinking about spring semester being cut short and graduation being postponed. When reality hit that graduation and going back to Philly wasn’t in the cards, feelings of uncertainty became prevalent. It suddenly felt as though I was reading an amazing book, the type of book that when you reach the end, nostalgia blankets your thoughts. Reaching the end means parting ways with the story and the characters. You have to leave that world that you’ve grown so comfortable in.

So you’re reading said book, approaching the end. You’re cozied up in bed soaking up each word of the last chapter. Someone stomps in and aggressively grabs your book. Said devilish person stares you in the eye, as they tear that last chapter out and widely rips it apart. You’re heartbroken for the chapter you’ll never finish.

I wallowed in self-pity for a moment, maybe more than a moment, but then I quickly realized, my not graduating and finishing the last months of school seems pretty insignificant in comparison to the distress caused by this global pandemic. I only hope our world can restore, and we can find peace within each other.