I’m a University of Pittsburgh senior: This is how COVID-19 changed things for me

March 19, 2020 12:44 pm

The University of Pittsburgh (Photo via The Pittsburgh Current)

By Brenden Rearick

“Not with a bang, but with a whimper.”

These words resonate with college seniors like myself more and more as we realize that our undergrad years will come to a close under quarantine. Visions of reuniting with peers after spring break, weekend drinks at the South Oakland bars, and graduation photo-ops are marred by the international crisis that we are faced with.

The University of Pittsburgh has been largely accommodating in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, making a statement on March 11 with guidelines for moving forward in the semester. These guidelines included extending spring break for another week and advising students to prepare for online education, rather than in-class lectures.

Faculty at Pitt have been trying to make the most of this pandemic. My inbox is flooded with flustered professors’ emails surveying students about the best course of action.

Classroom lecture and face-to-face discussion have turned into web-based discussion boards and sterile PowerPoint files. Large projects for most of my classes are now canceled. That means our professors won’t see how we execute the knowledge they’ve given us, and students won’t have the chance to apply the knowledge we’ve learned.

Apart from professors, other faculty have had to spend the last handful of days being physically present at work despite a shutdown for everyone else. Library staff has pleaded for a shutdown of campus facilities fearing virus exposure, and with good reason — news about the virus is only getting more concerning and these faculty were being told to continue their work in vulnerable environments.

Luckily, they have finally gotten their wish, as administrators announced further closures of on-campus facilities Wednesday night.

Housing issues are becoming a huge hassle for already exasperated students. Those who left for spring break have been told to refrain from returning to campus.

Many of those students who are paying for dorm housing and meal plans were left wondering how they will be financially compensated for this early eviction. The University has announced a partial refund for those in on-campus housing, but those who are unable to make it back to campus by April 3 will have to pay full cost.

Seniors at Pitt are not as lucky as underclassmen. They are not permitted to live in on-campus housing and therefore have to rent. Displaced upperclassmen are now at the mercy of their landlords for any possible compensation and are sinking money into apartments that they are not currently living in since campus has closed down.

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The most unlucky in all these changes are those abroad, and those on the cusp of their study-abroad semester. Students abroad were pulled from their locations in response to the growing crisis, and those scheduled to travel in the coming months are no longer daydreaming of exotic summers overseas as it becomes apparent their trip likely won’t happen.

The educational changes and housing woes are annoying and disappointing. But the worst part of all of this is how the global pandemic is affecting the final semester in college for a lot of us.

Senior year is a big deal. It’s the year you decide what you want to do. Those looking toward graduate school are gathering letters of recommendation, and those looking toward employment are browsing the classifieds and building professional connections.

The COVID-19 pandemic has foiled many seniors’ plans, to say the least. Building connections has been made exceptionally difficult for students, as any career fairs or internship events on campus have been erased from our schedules.

Many of my classes involved working with professionals who have taken the time from their schedules to come in, and now these opportunities are gone.

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Graduation ceremonies, supposed to be one of the biggest events in our lives, have been postponed. Will I be able to celebrate with all of my friends, or are we going to collectively finish our classes from home and get our diplomas in the mail? Many students won’t be able to go to a postponed graduation ceremony, whether due to distance or time constraints and so they will finish their undergrad studies without the ceremony they dreamed of.

And while these things are important, the biggest question we face is, “What are we going to do once we graduate?” A lot of businesses are affected by the COVID-19 emergency measures. Some aren’t currently operational and many may not survive the extreme measures that we now live under.  The momentum that we have exiting college is going to come to a grinding halt if we have to wait weeks before trying to enter the job pool, which is shrinking. It feels like the worst type of cabin fever; stuck in indefinite limbo between college and professional life.

I do appreciate the University acting to make the community safe, notifying the student body of the seriousness of the issue nearly a full week before it was even acknowledged by the president. It is simply an aggravating time for students, especially those of us on the brink of the biggest transition of our lives, left even more uncertain than we could ever prepare for.

Brenden Rearick is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, he wrote this piece for the Pittsburgh Current, where it first appeared.

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