There are several events in history that have left those alive at the time able to recall exactly where they were, what they were doing and what they were thinking and feeling during that time. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.
This month, exactly a year after the virus began widely circulating and turned the world upside down, a hashtag (#TheMoment) surfaced on Twitter, in which people shared the moment that they realized that COVID would change their lives for the foreseeable future.
Surprisingly, in a world where it seems that people can’t agree on much of anything, most people’s “moments” were remarkably similar.
For some, it was the National Basketball Association cancelling the remainder of its season.
For others, it was going to the store and seeing shelves stripped bare of essentials such as food, hand sanitizer and toilet paper. And for many, it was the shift many schools made to virtual learning that marked a shift in how they thought of COVID.
Fairfield University was among the academic institutions that shut their doors in March of 2020, leaving its students to try to figure out how to navigate a new reality of virtual classes, canceled events and increased isolation.
Due to this, every Fairfield student has a story about when their moment happened.
Christina Cardona ‘22 is certainly no exception to this. She was in her bedroom at home on March 22 when she received the email from President Mark Nemec informing the university community that the rest of the Spring 2020 semester would be continuing online.
“When I received the email, reality hit,” she said. “I remember reading the email and feeling like it wasn’t real. I never thought that it would come to that point.”
A member of the Fairfield University tennis team, Anna Komer ’21 was in Florida with her teammates to play a few matches over spring break when she had her moment. Her coach called to tell the team that the season had very abruptly come to an end and that they would be placed under quarantine.
This came as a rude awakening for Komer, who, just a couple of days earlier, was unaware of just how dramatically her life was about to be altered.
“The plane ride down to Florida, people were just wiping down their seats with Clorox wipes and cracking jokes,” she said.
After she received the news that the season was over, Komer didn’t know what to think.
“I felt lost because this was so unprecedented and no one knew what was going to happen,” she said.
She thought of her senior teammates, who would never again have an opportunity to play tennis at the collegiate level.
For some students, like Thomas VanDerslice ‘23, whose dad is an Emergency Medical Technician, the moment of reckoning was downright eerie.
“The moment that stood out the most to me came from a call with my father,” VanDerslice said. “We were discussing the virus and he had told me that the state had sent them an excess supply of body bags to prepare for the very possible chance that there would be an increase of need for them.”
Prior to the phone call, VanDerslice said, he didn’t think that COVID would have much of an impact on his life. But in that moment, he said he suddenly filled with unease and uncertainty.
Megan Smith ‘21 had looked forward to studying abroad since she was a sophomore. Yet, to her disappointment, she was one of the 140 students studying abroad at the Florence University of the Arts that were forced to return home early from Italy in February 2020, just as COVID cases were exploding in the country.
“The moment I realized that COVID would change my life for the foreseeable future was when I was in my history class and people were looking up flights home. Rumors had been swirling that COVID-19 was spreading in Italy, but all of my teachers reassured us that we were staying and that we shouldn’t panic so I didn’t think anything of it,” Smith recalled. “An hour after my class ended I went to dinner with my friends and we received the email saying we were being sent home from Italy and needed to fill out a form to get on a flight home as soon as possible.”
In the weeks following the start of the pandemic, students would face many more disappointments.
Many, like Komer, were among the millions of Americans working in the service industry whose jobs would become yet another casualty of the pandemic. Komer, who is a nursing major, also had to contend with the fact that all of her clinical experiences were moved online after non-essential personnel were banned from entering hospitals.
Countless others, like Smith and Jaclyn Burns ‘21, had their internships canceled.
“I had an internship lined up for the summer at the time, but it was cancelled because of COVID, so that was disappointing,” Burns shared.
In addition, students such as Evan Arnold ‘24, who was a high school senior when COVID hit, were forced to miss out on important milestones.
“I had to face missing out on senior prom, I had to cancel my 18th birthday party and my graduation ended up being a drive-thru type graduation.”
But what bothers him more than anything else, Arnold said, was that he has not been able to have what he considers to be a typical “college experience,” being largely unable to go to events and hang out with friends.
“That has been the most disappointing thing yet,” he said.
But this story would be far from complete without telling of the resiliency and creativity that have gotten Fairfield students through the pandemic and the strategies that have allowed them to cope with it.
Junior Connor Driscoll initially struggled with having to adjust to all of the changes that COVID brought, especially classes being moved online, but quickly found ways to muddle through it.
“I dealt with the change by trying to find little things in my life that would make my day better, including learning how to cook homemade meals, working out on a regular basis and focusing on my mental health,” he said.
For Smith, having to come home from Italy and begin new classes (she was unable to continue the classes that she was taking abroad) made adjusting to COVID difficult.
“The online classes we had to take were hard because we received little support with our classes as they were mostly asynchronous which was challenging to get used to.” To get through the challenge, she leaned on her family and friends for support.
“Talking with friends and my family over zoom made the isolation a lot less lonely. My friends and I did trivia every week which gave me something to look forward to during quarantine.”
Meanwhile, although Arnold said that there are aspects of COVID that he will never be able to adjust to, such as online classes and not being able to see his grandparents for months at a time, the pandemic has created some bright spots in his life.
“My friends and I really have done a fantastic job at making the best of the situation,” he said. “We have found ways to be together without breaking the rules, and have found ways to meet new people that we would have never met had COVID not happened.”
What’s more, most students were in agreement that despite all the losses that they have incurred due to the pandemic, COVID has proven to be an important learning experience for them, and has allowed them to grow as people.
“I think that I have learned to accept the things we cannot change,” said Cardona. “During a time where I feel like everyone has experienced loss, I am very thankful for what I have.”