One week until what would have been Ball State University's Class of 2020 commencement, and the air settles in defeat. It's been hard to know what to believe, what rules to follow and when to shower. The media is vibrating with uncertainty, and even trustworthy sources are falling contradictory over themselves.
Ball State doesn't close when fingers and toes are half-way to frost bite, walking to class in December, so for Ball State President Geoffrey M. Mearns to close campus for the rest of the semester and summer, the campus community knew the COVID-19 pandemic was serious.
This is the news some students dream of, but this reason left a sick feeling in my gut that still sways at the bottom. I understand — and even appreciate — some students excitement for fewer obligations and "attending class" in yoga pants, but I wonder if the students, especially seniors, who seemed excited still feel that way after the realization that no classes means no connecting with peers and professors in person, no parties, no coffee-shop studying sessions or late-night trips for curly fries. This isn't spring break or summer vacation; this is a pandemic.
Stolen experiences and half-finished assignments lay heavy on my shoulders. I want to carry on as normal, but the fear of what's coming and what has already happened draws my focus.
It's hard for a lot of seniors at Ball State. Psychology major Jordan Martin, 22, said she expected to graduate in May before starting an internship. Her plans, like mine and many others, have been derailed.
"We're transitioning into adulthood after we graduate, but it won't feel like a big step." Martin says. "It might all feel blurred together with classes being over already, and commencement being postponed."
Mearns sent out an email with a Commencement Survey attached, asking the Ball State community to share their preference for how the university should handle commencement — postpone until the summer, the fall or cancel the ceremony altogether.
Many seniors and I have the same hope as Martin. Animation major Alex Almaguer, 21, said he was looking forward to graduating and celebrating with his friends but had to quickly accept that wasn't going to happen.
"It does make me sad knowing I won't get to walk and experience the ending of college with my friends," Almaguer said.
He is not alone. Nearly 4 million college graduates will not get to celebrate as planned. According to Education Data, it is estimated that for the 2019-20 academic year, there will be a total of 3,898,000 college graduates in the United States, an increase of nearly six million students from the 2015-16 academic year. .
"How many people can say they didn't have a graduation ceremony because of a pandemic?" Almaguer asks. What a time for the class of 2020. Today's college seniors will have quite the story to tell.
As most 2020 graduates cross their fingers for a ceremony later in the year, others feel apathetic.
"Two years ago, I walked the stage, listened to my name read with the subsequent cheers, and received my degree. That was enough for me."
Chandler Bell, 24, planned on attending May commencement, earning his Master of political science. He said he was relieved to hear the news of graduation being canceled, and realized he more so wanted the event for his family, rather than personal desires.
"They insisted on being there for the "crowning of the first master in the family," (my dad jokes), upon making the case against attending." Bell said.
Luckily having already earned an undergrad in economics, Bell is okay with the results of graduation, but is empathetic to those who haven't had the experience yet.
A new abundance of free time leaves many people counting tiles on the ceiling, but in others, it can spark a side they didn't have time for before.
"I see a lot of people crafting, which I love to see," Martin said. "I've definitely been more artsy since I have a bit more time now and it's helped me just get through this weirdness."
Martin has completed one art piece, where she painted over a bright yellow caution sign (Article photo: middle). She currently has two pieces in progress.
"I think colors are really important in art pieces. They tell a lot about the emotion behind the paintings." Martin said.
Bell has been learning to cook throughout his time at Ball State, having to take care of himself. He owns a Nikon d5600 that he plays around with as well, but the emptiness of quarantine pushed the two hobbies together.
"Creatively, I have been cooking, in addition to photographing my best dishes." Bell said. (Article photo: left and right).
Asking Bell if he has done anything unusual, he shared that for seemingly no reason, one afternoon, he was prompted to do something sporadic.
"Being a 24-year-old cis man, I've never shaven my legs." Bell shared, "It took a while, but I finally got to experience the joy of rubbing lotion on these smooth bad boys. The downside: the lower half of my body has been freezing since. With at least another month of isolation, who knows, maybe my head will be next."
My entire college career has been unpredictable, so it only makes sense my last semester would end in a world-wide pandemic. Although I could be sad, angry, or scared, I have decided to focus on the positive possibilities of graduating in the summer, getting to live with my family one more time before I get a job somewhere else, and having one last summer to myself.
When the skies clear and streets fill up again, first year alumni will be entering a work force that's been on pause. There is so much to say and so much to explore once the world hits play again. It might be the perfect time to be setting the Class of 2020 free.