When I entered my second semester of fifth-year study in January — my final semester at Clark — I was mentally preparing myself to step foot into the “real world” in just a few short months. Little did I know, that “real world” was about to become a state of global chaos that hadn’t been witnessed in decades.
COVID-19 has disrupted all aspects of life for everyone. As a graduate student, it has turned my sense of normalcy on its head. My reality now is watching Zoom lectures in my bedroom, taking trips to the grocery store wearing gloves on my hands and a scarf over my mouth, applying for jobs with employers I’m not sure I’ll hear from, and spending time exclusively with my small quarantine circle, which continues to shrink as my roommates trickle home months before we were meant to say goodbye.
While Clark faculty and staff have done all they can to make the transition to online learning as seamless as possible, the change has been difficult. For anyone who is easily distracted in the classroom, forcing yourself to focus while staring at a small box on a screen in your bedroom is almost impossible. That being said, the understanding and care coming from professors is amazing. Some have canceled or pushed back deadlines to make things easier on students, and many have sent heartwarming emails that radiate care and kindness.
My MBA capstone professor, Donna Gallo, sent this email to our class following the announcement that Clark would close:
“I hope you are well and adjusting to the million little things that we are challenged by each day. This email is touching base to assure you that we will get through this, you will all pass, and those who are on track to graduate will do so with a story to tell. There may be some of you who are challenged with time zones, having designated space to work in, or access to Wi-Fi connections. If you are in any of those situations, please let me know as soon as possible. Kids and pets will inevitably be a part of some of our interactions. They are constant reminders of what is truly important, so don’t worry if that happens.”
Reading emails like this reminds me that we are all in this time of uncertainty together, and that we can and must count on each other to make it through.
The shift to online learning coupled with the confinement to our homes has led to a type of isolation that has been foreign to me for the past four and a half years. College and graduate school is typically a time filled with friends; whether it be going to bars, restaurants, museums, breweries, or even just friends’ houses for movie or game nights, it’s full of activity and social interaction. With the very necessary implementation of social distancing, however, all of that has come to a stop.
There is now a sense that those who you live with are the only ones you see (with the exception of significant others). For those who returned home it means family, while for me, who chose to stay in Worcester until my apartment lease ends, it means the five people remaining in my apartment. While five is a relatively small circle, I feel incredibly lucky to have these friends to lean on and speak to during this stressful time, and to have FaceTime at my disposal to call those I miss. The existence of FaceTime also has allowed for the continuation of virtual happy hours and game nights that I look to as shining lights during this time of quarantine.
All in all, being stuck at home is difficult, but it is doable. The real stress of COVID-19 for me, and for every other 2020 graduate, comes from thinking about the future. I am still applying to jobs (at employers that may or may not still be accepting applications), but the massive economic crash that has resulted in the layoffs of people who already had jobs leaves the rest of us feeling hopeless. I am fortunate to have a family to go back to if I am unable to find work in the next two months, and I recognize that not everyone is in that position. At the same time, the idea that I will have just finished putting myself through graduate school only to return home with nothing to show for it is incredibly disheartening.
The changes necessitated by COVID-19 came at us fast, and almost felt like a dream. It’s still hard for me to digest that I will never attend another in-person lecture at Clark. There will be no celebration of achievement at commencement, no final drinks at local bars with classmates I’ve had for five years. I’ll only be able to wave goodbye to my best friends from a distance of six feet. It’s hard to look forward without feeling dread and sadness that my peers and I are facing possibly months of unemployment when we were just ready to enter the workforce.
Amid these hard times, however, I have been able to deduce the things that have mattered most to me throughout my five years at Clark. I’m realizing what I’ll truly miss are the things I have typically taken for granted: one-on-one lunch dates with friends, learning in the classroom from engaging and intelligent professors, and stopping at least five times on the way to class to catch up with friends who are passing by.
Trying to push forward through our new COVID-19 reality is difficult, but not impossible. While we live through this time of fear, we must keep our eyes and hearts open to the kindness that still surrounds us, and put out our hand — figuratively, of course — to those who may need our love and support. We are in a moment that will be in textbooks, and I hope that, when asked, we will be proud of who we were during this time, and share stories filled with happiness as well as sadness, hope as well as fear, and laughter when remembering the infatuation the world seems to have with toilet paper.