Senior year is special for Chapman University students. Well, they sure won’t forget this one. Class of 2020? How about Class of 19 — Covid-19.
“It feels like a very crucial semester of my life was taken away,” said senior PR & advertising major Gabi Gonzalez. “I feel heartbroken over the whole situation and definitely am not ready to be leaving Chapman and all the memories that were lost.”
The last few months of college provide an ending for endless memories made, finalized when students walk across the stage. However, 14 million college seniors across the U.S. will not get to experience any of these things. In fact, Chapman seniors, like those everywhere, won’t even get a graduation ceremony. At least not until fall, after they are long gone. They are left knowing their Chapman days are already over. When they packed out under university orders in March at the start of the pandemic, they were actually packing for good.
“I felt so certain that classes would come back before graduation… lol I was very wrong,” said senior business administration major Alicia Kristjanson. “It’s like the stages of grief!!”
Ah yes, those universally well known five stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Stage 1: Denial
“I felt pretty numb about it and was totally in denial. I felt so certain that classes would come back before graduation,” said Kristjanson.
The global pandemic coincidentally began to substantially impact the United States the week before Spring Break for many schools across the country. So at first, students just saw it as an extended vacation.
“Little did I know it would be for good,” said senior international business major Callie Loftus.
Many thought they would be back on campus after April. But that was before the extent of the virus was actually known. That set in a harsh reality.
Senior creative writing major Charlotte McDougald explained, “I naively thought that classes would be back in a few weeks. I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.”
Stage 2: Anger
Lots of anger.
Even Chapman University President Daniele C. Struppa has acknowledged in an open letter that the Zoom classes are just not an adequate substitute for being in the classroom.
“Online classes are AWFUL. Seriously awful,” said Kristjanson.
She explains why at length:
“I applied myself in classes at this point because I was interested in learning and connecting with my peers and professors. Now it feels like I have no reason to go to class. I don’t need good grades because I’m graduating, I can’t absorb the lessons I was interested in because the learning environment is ineffective, and I can’t connect to my peers or profs because we are interacting in a chat room. I feel like I’m logging on just to waste time and get attendance points. I really like school, so this sucks.”
It’s even worse for some specific majors. Students attaining degrees such as art, dance, graphic design, screen acting, and film production feel that this transition is not comparable to the educational experience they were receiving in person.
“It is really important to get in-person feedback from teachers and classmates during class critiques,” said senior graphic design major Alexandra Mogelvang. “Also, I have always enjoyed my classes and learning and it is sad to think that I will never have that opportunity again as a student.”
There’s also anger that the campus atmosphere is gone, just being with friends.
“It’s unfortunate because I feel disconnected from the rest of the community and even my classmates,” said McDougald. “I don’t feel like I go to Chapman any more.”
Stage 3: Bargaining
Finding ways to exist and enjoy this new way of life has been a challenge for most.
Coping isn’t easy.
Senior corporate communications major Willie Swindells said that all of this free time, “has led to an increase in playing video games.”
Many are enjoying just having more time with family.
Mogelvang reunited with her family at their home in Palm Springs after being away from each other for months.
“I have siblings who live all throughout California so it was the perfect way for all of us to be together,” she said.
Stage 4: Depression
Especially for those in sports. Their seasons were taken away from them.
Said senior business administration major Ricky Hoefert: “My coach (Ming Lao) and the men’s golf team was the reason I was able to come to Chapman. This whole year I was always envisioning walking off that final green in SCIAC Championships or NCAA Championships and embracing him and telling him how much I am grateful for him, giving me the best years of my life.”
It won’t happen now.
“Not being able to cherish those last moments with the team is a tough pill to swallow,” Hoefert said.
Being torn from friendships made at Chapman, that’s a tough one too.
Said Mogelvang: “One of the hardest parts about this as a senior is more in regards to my social life. Because everyone was leaving so abruptly it was hard to say goodbye to people I have made great relationships with. Hopefully, the postponed graduation will allow me to do that.”
Added Loftus: “I guess at the end of the day the thing that’s making me the most upset is the fact that I won’t ever have that ease or freedom of college lifestyle ever again.”
Stage 5: Acceptance
While none of this has been easy, most seniors accept that Chapman is trying to do the right thing with fall graduation. That is the plan right now. Other schools across the country have simply nixed graduation ceremonies completely.
“This was absolutely the right move,” said Hoefert.
Added Mogelvang. “It will be special no matter when.”
Kristjanson adds: “It shows how much they value the student and our community.”
And McDougald: “It is obviously very devastating to have this amazing celebration of a big milestone in our life taken away and changed, but I do think that it will be an even more special experience as our class can come back together to celebrate one more time. It will be different, but I think we can make it special.”
Most seniors are able to look past coronavirus and online classes and just be thankful they came to Chapman. But this experience has left them wanting to pass on advice to the other class levels.
“Live in the moment,” said Loftus. “Don’t waste time on stupid things that don’t matter in the long run. Be present and live up what you can. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you have to do what you can to make the best of every situation because you don’t know what tomorrow holds.”
And Movelgang: “Take every opportunity you have because college is a time where you should want to fail. You will only grow and learn about yourself if you say yes. Also, appreciate being in class and being able to walk up to your teacher to ask for help.”
And maybe the quarantine time has made some students appreciate their classroom time more.
“Appreciate it all, said senior Gabi Gonzolez. “Take that class that interests you. Get close with your professors. Don’t take any of this experience for granted because once it’s over, all you want to do is go back to the beginning and relive it all.”