Senior Year in the Time of Coronavirus
Fall 2020 | By Alisha Hamilton
On May 9, 2020, I woke up bright and early. I got fully dressed in my cap and gown to join my immediate family on the sofa as we watched the live broadcast Clayton State University prepared for the graduates.
Much to my surprise, I walked into a beautifully decorated living room with congratulations banners and a table dressed in linen and crystal for a surprise celebration dinner with my favorite roses in the center.
I could not help but cry tears of joy watching the deans of each college acknowledge the graduates. I was so thankful that I was still able to be with my immediate family to celebrate this accomplishment. I spent that day receiving thoughtful texts that warmed my heart and ended it at that beautifully dressed table having my favorite meal.
This was my graduation day. And while it was a bit different than what I had expected, it reminded me of the resiliency of the Laker family in overcoming the toughest circumstances to achieve personal success.
Coronavirus, COVID-19 or the Big Rona, as some have called it changed everyone’s 2020 plans. I watched my family, friends, classmates and teammates become riddled with anxiety over job security, the health of loved ones and their personal safety. All over the news, there were increasing cases of COVID-19.
I had purposely limited my news watching and reading time to avoid becoming overwhelmed, but, as the conversations about COVID-19 at work increased, it had become more challenging to ignore that this could be a major turning point.
I never expected spring break of my final semester as an undergraduate to look the way that it did. The conference my team and I were planning to attend in Kentucky was canceled. On-campus instruction was suspended for two weeks. My gym shut down, movie theaters closed, and the job and graduate school fair I had been preparing for was canceled. The realization hit that COVID-19 is truly a world-wide health pandemic.
The cancellation of events and travel that I had been looking forward to for a year shifted my entire plan. My social media timelines were flooded with COVID-19 conversations or disgruntled people, disappointed that they also could not travel or attend the events they planned. I empathized but I did not want to dwell on it. There was nothing I could do to change it.
I had gone from spending 8 to 9 hours on campus as a student, intern and employee to spending countless hours in front of a screen, checking my emails and looking for updates.
From the start, my professors transitioned into online instruction almost flawlessly.
For one of my classes, we began meeting virtually during our scheduled class time to discuss projects. It was more difficult to stay focused when I was online for class, but turning on my camera kept me more accountable in front of my professor and classmates.
There were other bright spots to the move to online communication. One day, I spent nearly the entire day on video chats with my friends or coworkers, not necessarily conversing the entire time but enjoying having another person’s presence. We worked on our perspective projects, occasionally pausing to chat but more importantly keeping each accountable.
We talked about the projects that we were working on. We even celebrated one another’s little victories like getting in a workout or spending at least 20 minutes outside. One of the most important reminders that I received during COVID-19 was to cherish time with my loved ones. I was so appreciative that most of them were still a video call away.
I started creating physical boundaries at home and it helped me increase my productivity. If I was doing work for my job, I sat at my desk where I could close the door and limit interruptions. If I was doing homework or internship work, I worked at my kitchen table where I had encouraged my two younger brothers to join me as they did their homework. This helped them get homework assistance, if needed, and kept us all accountable.
Next, I started doing my morning routine as if I were leaving the house and I felt a lot more prepared to start my day, even if it was at home. Between online class sessions and homework, I made an active effort to take a break outside and get some sun for at least a few minutes a day.
One day, I even worked outside for a few hours and it was beautiful! With those gradual changes, I finally got the hang of working, interning and being a student at home—though I admit, I missed dining out!
Like most students, I envisioned myself finally walking across the stage during commencement to receive my diploma. That image motivated me for the six years I had worked on my degree to keep pushing. Instead, I spent the morning surrounded by those that loved and supported my educational dreams tuning in to hear words of hope from the president and faculty.
When I look back on my final semester, I am comforted in knowing that I achieved my goal of earning a degree during a trying time for most people. I can celebrate that I preserved until the very end. I was and still am proud of myself and all the seniors around the country that still graduated during the pandemic.
I encourage all students still pursuing their degrees to renew their commitment to themselves to finish their degree, focus on their plan to achieve it and be willing to change that plan to reach their goal because the finish line may not look the way you envisioned.
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