If this past year has taught me anything, it has been that patience is key and to go with the flow. Plans were entirely futile this year. From March to now, a lot has happened, and I hope that a lot of perspective has been gained. I have never missed my friends, professors, or family more, but I have also never been more grateful for their health, safety, and well-being. I hope that this year has taught people to respect one another. 2020 has brought me great respect for those battling this virus in our hospitals and those fighting for social justice for all Americans, and I hope I am not alone in that. To be a student in 2020 involved learning on all fronts, both inside and outside the classroom, albeit virtual or in-person.
My COVID experience began in Santiago de Composetla, Spain, while studying abroad last spring. I vividly remember sitting in the airport in Madrid last January with my friend Miranda discussing the coronavirus, and the two of us genuinely not understanding why some people were so worried about it. Looking back on that conversation, I laugh a little bit at how naïve we were. At that moment, we never would have believed that seven short weeks later, we would be called home early because the whole world was shutting down. I will always remember what it felt like to be going home under those circumstances – masks, temperature checks, CDC officials boarding our plane when we landed and quarantining once we got home. Learning to accept how my study abroad journey ended was not fun, but I also recognized how fortunate I was to be home, safe and sound, with my family.
Finishing the spring semester of 2020 was not normal for anyone. Everything about the experience was the complete opposite of how that semester was supposed to end. Still, we were able to finish our study abroad credits via ZOOM with Dr. McCarthy-Gilmore. To have our Loras faculty rally behind us to help our group complete our credits was an amazing show of support and truly highlights the wonderful generosity and kindness that the Loras professors showed during this challenging and confusing time. It was an odd and unforgettable experience, but we did it together. I know I am not alone in expressing this feeling of gratitude.
From the beginning, the 2020-2021 school year was unlike any other and not anything like how I had imagined senior year would be. I was fortunate enough to be back on campus for this school year, but that came with its own set of adjustments. During RA Training this August with the Residence Life staff, we went over the plethora of new protocols and procedures for the semester. I could not imagine having to enforce this long list of new rules, especially when RAs already face a reputation of ruining the fun. Having to monitor the number of people in a room and reminding everyone in the halls to wear a mask seemed like a daunting task. I found that to be the first moment I truly realized how different this school year would be from past years. The realities of what campus life would be like this year taught me patience and having to trust other people to also make good choices. Being able to stay in-person and on-campus would require all members of the Duhawk community to do their part, and I had to learn a lot of trust to accept that fact.
Classes this school year were conducted in a variety of new ways that involved a period of adjustment to the schedule of hybrid classes and the procedures of entirely online courses. This past semester I completed a senior research project for my history degree, and the pandemic protocols brought some additional challenges to that already stressful task. The alteration to the school calendar meant that there would be no in-person classes after Thanksgiving affected our final oral presentations a great deal. The January version of me sitting in the airport in Madrid would never have imagined that, come December, I would be giving my senior thesis presentation from my kitchen table in Evergreen Park, IL, but that is what it was like being a student in 2020. Plans are futile, and going with the flow is the only option left. I feel immensely proud of my learning community for being able to complete such a complex research project under the circumstances of the pandemic.
One of the other significant events of 2020 was the Presidential Election, and this event also left a profound impact on how my semester unfolded. I am a member of the Loras College Honors Program, and my group’s project is titled Voter Registration and Education. All honors groups faced difficulties this semester due to the pandemic putting a huge dent in our groups’ original plans. My group had to change our entire plan to engage young voters and push for voter registration. We had intended to work with the Dubuque high schools to help register high school seniors to vote in this year’s election. The pandemic put a major wrench in these plans, and it forced our group to think of new, COVID-safe strategies. We ultimately decided to turn our attention to the Loras community and provided the pamphlets and informational materials we had developed with our community partner to the student body via their mailboxes. Going through the process of reworking our plans was a unique learning opportunity that truly challenged us to think outside the box.
The need to get creative to find solutions to COVID restrictions extended to my student organizations. I am the President of the Loras College Guild of St. Genesius, our honors theater group on campus. The Loras Players had to be incredibly creative to find ways to create this semester without being able to hold in-person productions. We conducted our annual One Day Play event exclusively online this year. Teams met via online platforms to write and film their one-act plays over 24 hours, and then we released all videos on the Loras Players YouTube channel and submitted them to our panel of judges. We were fortunate to have members of the talented staff from the Grand Opera House of Dubuque, as well as two Loras faculty members, kindly donate their time to serve as our judges. The process of planning our Virtual One Day Play event was unlike any other, and this same sense of creativity came into play while planning our other productions this semester. We produced two radio plays this semester after minimal rehearsals and adhering to strict social distancing practices. The Loras Players’ productions of The War of the Worlds and Miracle on 34th Street were both released on the Duhawk Digest podcast. It was such an amazing opportunity to continue to create this semester and bring characters to life, all while staying safe. Theater was an important outlet for our group to find some semblance of normalcy in this anything-but-normal year. The pandemic offered a unique set of challenges to theater this past semester, but we found ways to persevere.
Overall, being a student in 2020 was unlike anything I had experienced before and nothing like I anticipated. This year, I had days when all I felt was sorry for myself that I lost out on my semester abroad, but I also had days of immense gratitude that technology allowed me to attend class remotely and safely. It was a semester of ups and downs, as well as days of frustration and acceptance. I would never have imagined my last year at Loras being under these circumstances. Still, I also acknowledge the impressive feat it is to have accomplished what I did this semester. I learned to think outside the box like never before and think critically to solve new problems I had never faced before. Funny enough, I discovered that office hours via ZOOM are impressively beneficial. I was able to write and defend my 30+ page senior thesis despite the limitations of sources. This semester was immensely challenging, but it also helped me learn in ways I never imagined possible. A lot has happened since last January, but in that time, I have also learned a great deal – whether it be about a subject matter, social injustices, trust in others, or myself as an individual.
I look forward to what challenges inevitably await us in 2021, and I hope we carry the lessons we learned this year forward with us.