by Kristin McKee / Digital Content Editor
In each of my final class sessions before spring break, my professors wished the students well and to “stay healthy” due to the widespread outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. I didn’t think much of it. I just thought it was a quirky, situational addition to their farewell. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of an intense affair.
The break kicked off Chicago’s warmest day of the year so far, perfectly timed with the beginning of Daylight Savings. My boyfriend and I strolled through Lakeview as I sipped on my favorite Starbucks drink for weather like this — an iced chai latte with almond milk. Passing through Boystown, bars blasted heavy music out of their windows and day-drinkers gathered outside of their doors, sharing laughs and sipping beer. We headed to Lincoln Park and enjoyed a late lunch at Roti while lounging in their outdoor dining area. The rest of the day was spent along the lake where numerous people were riding bikes, unwinding in hammocks, picnicking with friends and even dancing. The sun was lifting the weight of Chicago’s brutal winter off my shoulders. City dwellers were no longer hibernating in their homes. It was the first of many celebrations for a long-awaited spring, or so we thought.
I spent the remaining days of spring break watching the coronavirus scare escalate to great lengths beginning with the postponement of Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. COVID-19 was plastered across the front page of every newspaper, and my social media feeds were circulating new headlines by the hour. My mom would text me every day expressing her concern of me potentially getting sick. Within days, the virus became the centerpiece of everyday conversation.
Once schools around the country began announcing their decisions to close due to the outbreak, I was hit with a convoluted mix of emotions. Part of me was confused as to why schools were taking a virus that has affected so little so seriously, especially in the state of Illinois, where the number of cases wasn’t very high compared to other parts of the United States. I wanted to learn more about the virus in order to understand why the outbreak was such a big deal, but the discussions were divided over how everyone was either overreacting (“it’s just the flu”) or underreacting (“it spreads quicker”). Another part of me was angry that Roosevelt hadn’t taken action yet, and I was losing hope that the school ever would. So many high schools and universities had these elaborate plans, and I began thinking that if the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, shouldn’t Roosevelt be doing something?
Many schools were getting an extra week of spring break, or were switching to online courses indefinitely. Naturally, I was jealous — working from the comfort of home sounded like a dream, especially because the CTA brings out the inner germaphobe in me. However, talking with my fellow Torch editors made me question if our university following suit would bring more problems than it would solutions. There were fears of how the virus outbreak would affect lab-based courses, living on campus, student employment and spring commencement.
I suddenly realized that I had fears too, mainly due to the thought of moving courses online. I’m currently enrolled in a film photography class that relies on developing photos in a darkroom, and I’m a member of a choir that’s preparing for a big performance in April. For myself and every other student at Roosevelt, it was a mystery as to how these courses could possibly continue. Nonetheless, I continued to wait anxiously for a decision from the university, similar to how I would wait for the school to announce a snow day.
When Roosevelt sent out the email announcing the extended spring break and moving courses online afterward last Thursday, I automatically jumped for joy (I even celebrated with a glass of wine). However, the concerns only grew more for myself and the other editors now that these decisions were a reality. I wanted to be optimistic about having a long break to relax from the stresses of the semester, but it was hard when there was so much at risk.
Normally, getting an extra week of spring break would be something to celebrate, but it was different this time. I saw former peers from high school expressing their disappointment with their respective colleges’ decisions. They were looking forward to going back to school, reuniting with their friends and finishing the school year in the way they planned. Instead, many were packing up their belongings and moving out of their dorm rooms, wondering how this new reality would transpire.
Seniors, at both the high school and university levels, had it worse. They were being stripped away from their chance to end their academic adventures with a bang. Not only were their curricular experiences being cut short, but athletic seasons, theater productions and other extracurriculars were also being removed. Special activities dedicated to the senior classes like field trips and prom were being canceled. Perhaps the worst of all, Illinois universities were beginning to cancel graduation ceremonies, including Roosevelt as of Thursday morning. Almost every college senior dreams of walking across the stage and receiving the diploma they put so much sweat and tears into. In such short notice, they would no longer get to receive that closure and sense of accomplishment.
If all this corona-craziness has taught me anything, it’s that I tend to take my academic experience for granted. I go to class and immediately look forward to going home, and as a result, I fail to remember that it’s very possible for this experience to be taken from me in the blink of an eye. I’ve been so focused on graduating — especially now that I’m a junior — that I lost track of actually enjoying my college years. Honestly, I expected everything to stay normal. I expected to attend my classes, pass them (when I put in the work, of course) and celebrate with my family and friends on graduation day. It never crossed my mind that normalcy was never promised until now.
I wrongfully treated this situation as an opportunity to not only get an extended vacation but to detach myself from an experience that is an immense privilege to have. I’m now very aware of the fact that I can’t get the college experience I’ve wanted for so many years from the comfort of my boyfriend’s apartment. Students around the world have to give up what is commonly described as the best years of their lives, and while it’s important to keep everyone’s health in the best interest, it’s important to realize what’s being sacrificed as well. The world is in a state of shock and confusion as people are trying to adjust to this new reality. Even though most aren’t affected by the virus itself, we’re all, in some way, affected by the fears behind this outbreak.
I think about that first day of spring break often. It was the last social gathering that — as far as we knew — held no serious risks. Bars have closed their doors to partiers, restaurants have stored away dining tables and chairs, and no one picnics or dances along the lake anymore. Chicago became a ghost town before our very eyes. We expected warmer days ahead spent with family and friends, but the future is now a profound blur.