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After a School Year Dominated by COVID-19, The End Has Arrived: How Did We Get Here?

Last March, when the world seemed to fall apart in a mere week, many students thought this COVID-19 thing would blow over in a couple of weeks, and online schooling would be something to tie us over for the rest of the semester. Surely this scary online schooling environment wouldn’t last that long, we all thought.

No one knew that by summer’s end, we’d still be in the same boat.

Enter the 2020 fall semester. When school began in August, things seemed slightly hopeful that with just enough time for COVID-19 cases to fall, students could return to campus in some capacity. And as if by some miracle, by the end of September, the University gave a green light to students and professors who wanted to get a small taste of normal life again through “hyflex” classes. 

However, most students at the University of St. Thomas spent the rest of the fall and spring semester off campus, at home, and online, relying on plenty of coffee and their laptop’s battery life to get by. For many students, the largest issue with online college was the lack of social interaction, especially with their UST peers. Student organizations, however, like  Campus Activities Board, tried to mitigate that loneliness, and ended up playing a large part in making this abnormal year seem as normal as possible. 

We saw yearly events such as Neewollah and Spring Formal converted into COVID-friendly iterations of what they once were. We also saw new COVID-19 friendly events, like the “Car-nival,” and successful virtual performances from the theatre and dance departments. There’s no doubt the UST community, including students, faculty, staff, and administration have worked to maintain moments of normalcy throughout the school year. 

Yet for many, this wasn’t enough to avert from the reality of the situation: we were more alone than ever. 

As we ended each class and sat on beds or couches logging out of that last Zoom call or online final, and shut our laptops, we may have been  left with a resounding “So that’s it?” echoing through our heads. Whereas in times of normalcy students would leave their classes talking excitedly with peers, getting ready to meet somewhere on or off campus to study and chat, or merely staying back to get some help from their professors, this year provided none of that comforting experience. Instead of feeling like busy, prospering adults moving along our daily routines, there was nothing to look forward to after closing our laptops once a class was over other than thinking about what entertaining and productive things we could do while remaining inside our homes.

We all experienced the anxieties and struggles of being apart, yet it felt like anything other than being on the same boat mentally;  we all had different moments of emotional growth. Feelings of disappointment, sadness, and anger, as well as feelings of independence, peace, and self-discovery– we all went through a whole range this past school year at the hands of the pandemic. This especially applied to the hundreds of students who were looking forward to new beginnings and ends, new chapters of their lives.  

The freshman class had anything but the typical start to a well-dreamt college experience. These students were mere high school graduates when the pandemic hit in 2020, drastically altering their end-of–year traditions as seniors and the beginning of their college careers. What was going to be a period of celebration soon turned into a period of devastation. 

Yet things look hopeful for them: They too will one day take those careful steps around the seal. Their next involvement fair will hopefully be in person. And one day, soon, they will be able to blissfully go from their Teachings of the Catholic Church class in an upstairs Strake classroom, to an English class in the basement of Malloy–a tried-and-true practice performed by nearly every UST student.

On the other hand, those graduating this school year (and last spring) were dealt an unfair hand when it comes to all the traditions one expects before graduating. Most graduates didn’t get to experience their last time running into classmates between classes, studying with friends for endless hours at Doherty Library, or attending sporting events with a spirited student section. 

Instead, some graduates had a difficult time this semester mastering upper level courses while juggling an internship, research, or thesis in a virtual environment, while others have noted they lacked motivation to finish out the year. Four (maybe more) years of hard work at UST and this is what they get? At least spring commencement is taking place in person today.

This school year now leaves graduates with valid questions: “Will there be jobs available for us amid a pandemic and how long will it take to find one? Do we have the skills and capabilities to hold down jobs in the workforce after spending the last year in front of a screen with limited interaction?” 

Other students are left grappling with the pandemic’s aftermath, with some asking: “How has my mental health been affected by the effects of being alone for a year and a half? How will I be able to integrate back into society once this is all over, and will I ever grow accustomed to being around physical situations again?” The transition from being confined to ourselves and our immediate family in this new “normal” to once again being able to be around others is challenging, to say the least, but it will happen. 

The truth is, UST students have learned to accept and adapt. The all-too-common phrase ‘life throws you a curveball’ became a reality during the pandemic. But we accepted the dire circumstance and adapted to it, quickly learning to navigate this new contactless period with a greater reliance on virtual technology than ever before.  Clearly this year was not easy for everyone, but we managed to reach the end one way or another. On behalf of the Celt Independent, we sincerely congratulate all the graduates of the class of 2021 for all the hard work and dedication that was put into not only the years before, but during this atypical school year as well.

Lastly, as the semester ends, the Celt Independent would like to congratulate Editor-in-Chief Brittany Cristiano and assistant editor Emily Jaroszewski on their graduation; As we look forward to next school year, we also would like to announce Caroline Hoffmann as the Editor-in-Chief for the 2021-2022 school year. 

If you are interested in joining the Celt Independent team, please email us at editor@celtindependent.

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