College senior reflects on finishing school amid COVID-19
How do you take a sculpture studio class online?
It is my last semester as a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. I am not a fine arts major, but found that I had an extra credit I needed to fill after completing all my general education and major requirements. Sculpture is something completely out of my comfort zone, but I thought the hands-on experience would be a rewarding and calming distraction this semester as I planned to prepare for graduation and search for a job.
Now, my half-chiseled block of plaster has been abandoned in a studio miles away (which is probably for the best, as it looks nothing like the cat it was meant to resemble), and I am trying to figure out how to distort the furniture in my childhood bedroom into art. This is not how I saw this “hands-on” course, or really anything about my senior year, going.
To be clear, I do not want to complain. I am grateful for the swift actions taken by universities to aid social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic (although their methods have been subject to criticism that’s valid) and am extremely aware of my privilege. I have a stable and supportive home environment in the same time zone as my university, with access to food, technology, and decent WiFi that only freezes during about half of my online classes. Many college students are caught in far more tumultuous situations, and any policy changes within universities should be made with these students in mind.
However, as a graduating senior, it is difficult to shake that feeling of disappointment and frustration. I think these feelings are pretty much universal today. My little sister is a senior in high school. Like many of the Philadelphia students I have had the pleasure of meeting this semester as an intern with the Notebook, she is missing out on experiences that high school students prepare hard for and look forward to all year, such as proms, spirit weeks, AP exams, sports championships, and graduation.
Among a million other lessons, this pandemic has really exposed the essential role of education and the classroom itself in community life. Even my sister, who is in many ways a classic too-cool-for-school teenager, has expressed that she misses school.
Personally, I have found over the last two weeks of virtual instruction that without the physical act of moving through campus and interacting in person during classes, I do not feel the same engagement with my coursework. Although I still care deeply about what I am studying and my dedicated professors are facilitating online class discussions through video conferences, the interaction just does not feel as organic.
Even as an adult with work experience and good time-management skills, I will openly admit that I struggle some days with creating a schedule and sticking to it. (There are just such better snacks in the pantry here than I keep in my apartment at school.) I cannot imagine how challenging this is for school-age children, teenagers, and their parents. When this is all over, I hope everyone appreciates professors, teachers, and administrators more for providing guidance and support both during this crisis and in regular life. And I hope that political support for teacher salary increases will reflect that.
Through the hard work of my professors and the marvels of modern technology, I am able to complete my studies online. But other aspects of student life just cannot be simulated virtually. Penn, like many universities, has promised to hold some form of a graduation ceremony at a later date, yet my biggest regret is not being able to say goodbye to friends who I am not sure when I will be able to see again.
During the winter break of my freshman year, I suffered a major blood clot in each leg. Determined to graduate on time, I went back to school that spring with the aid of my grandmother’s rolling walker but was largely immobile. This was my first experience with prolonged isolation, and I remember feeling friendless and alone. If you told me then about the friends I would make and the clubs I would join and eventually lead within the next three years, I would not have believed you.
I am extremely fortunate not to have struggled greatly with academics in my life, making this transition to virtual learning easier, but I have struggled with isolation and immobility. I know the feeling of being trapped and lonely, and it has made me all the more grateful for the friends I have now and all the more hurt by our abrupt goodbyes.
However, at the risk of sounding too sentimental (I am finishing college, not applying for one), those experiences have made me who I am. I would not appreciate what I have if it were not for that period of loss and recovery. I hope that this quarantine helps us all become more appreciative of what we have: our health, our teachers, our friends, and especially the communities we are isolating from now.
I told my family that it was fitting that I began my college career not being able to walk and would finish it not knowing when and whether I would be able to walk across a stage at graduation. I am not sure whether they appreciated the humor so much as irony in this statement, but in a world where a sculpture studio class is taking place online, sometimes you just have to laugh.
Lynn Oseguera, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, is a Notebook intern this semester.