Class of Covid-19
She and her classmates lost a lot to the pandemic — but they maybe gained something, too.
By Emma Wyckoff ’21
On March 10, 2020, I had just arrived home in Florida for spring break when the email came from the university. Classes would be moved to remote learning for three weeks, a precaution against Covid cases rising in Ohio. My first thought was regret that I had left my textbooks on campus, but I was also excited for a few extra weeks of Florida sunshine. Three days later, we received another email. This one announced that online classes would continue through the semester. Suddenly, this was no longer an extended spring break.
Spring at Case is the busiest, most beautiful time of year, and now landmark events like the Hudson Relays, Springfest and Greek Games were cancelled. Every student organization now scrambled to decide how to continue operations virtually. Professors hastily changed their lecture plans to accommodate teaching over Zoom.
We were directed to move out of campus housing as soon as possible. One weekend in late March, my dad and I drove from Florida to Cleveland. I remember seeing my dad, who rarely shows weakness or emotion, cry as he saw the empty campus. The North Residential Village, always bustling with students, was a ghost town. “This is not how college in the spring is supposed to look,” he said.
Like many of my classmates, my brain went into autopilot and I somehow finished the hardest semester of my college years. Finding the motivation to study for finals was difficult when the Kelvin Smith Library was no longer an option. I turned 21 and didn’t have my first beer at The Jolly Scholar like I had planned. I didn’t get to say goodbye to friends from the Class of 2020. I was unable to land the summer internship of my dreams, as so many were cancelled.
As summer progressed, and the university had time to plan; things began to brighten. Freshman and seniors were allowed to move back on campus last fall. Classes would still be mostly remote, but limited access to libraries, dining halls and academic buildings offered a taste of normalcy.
Back at school, new traditions were born and some old traditions returned in a different form. Socially-distanced Bingo in Thwing (“Thwingo!”) became the highlight of Thursday nights. The CWRU Film Society still screened weekend movies in Strosacker, only with social distancing and masks. We were encouraged to meet up with friends outside, as visitors were prohibited in dorms. On the weekends, DiSanto Field filled with students spread out in lawn chairs, throwing frisbees and walking the track together.
I started applying for a spring semester internship as they became available. After months of delay, I was offered a position as an engineering intern at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida. Finally, all of my hard work had paid off.
The weekly Zoom meetings with my CWRU classmates were traded for weekly Microsoft Teams meetings with other NASA interns, since popping into each other’s cubicles was now a thing of the past. I took every opportunity to go on-center for construction inspections, walkdowns, and yes, rocket launches. Not many students can say they spent their last semester of college watching four astronauts launch to the International Space Station. But I can.
We are the first generation to experience a pandemic in 100 years. If Covid has taught me anything, it is that patience and persistence are key. This pandemic did not end as quickly as we expected, but safety protocols and vaccine rollouts got us through. Proactive planning by CWRU allowed the Class of 2021 to celebrate an almost-normal Senior Week, as well as a live commencement.
On my first day of classes in 2017, I knew I was in for four years of hard work, long nights of studying, and new memories. While none of us anticipated a pandemic, I am confident that, despite everything, my fellow graduates and I are ready to take on the world as Case alumni.
Emma graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and has joined Gresham Smith as a water resources engineer-in-training. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.