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Reflecting on my first semester during COVID-19

Madison Wrightstone ’23

I was in Florida on spring break with my teammates when we all first learned that we would not be returning to campus for two weeks. We had no idea at the time that we would not see each other again in person for almost six months. This is not a wildly unique experience I had – high schoolers and college kids alike missed out on their senior years, sport seasons, time with family members and friends, and the long list of experiences a person has while they are still young. The pandemic we have all been trudging through for the last year has put life on hold in so many ways, and yet life at Juniata has not become all that different as many of us thought it would.

I was ecstatic to come back to campus for in-person learning. Attempting to learn from a computer screen in my childhood bedroom hours away from campus for the second half of the spring 2020 semester was neither productive for me academically nor for my mental health. When I found out that Juniata was expecting to make a full return to campus, I – along with every single person that I told from home – was doubtful to say the least. How would a small liberal arts school in the (in what they like to say) “middle of nowhere” be able to control local outbreaks without endangering staff or the local community? How did we expect college kids to listen to all the rules in place? I bet we’d be on campus for three weeks max (which was very noticeable in what I chose to pack). And for maybe the first time in my life, I was very happy to be wrong about something. We were able to stay completely in person for the entire semester!

Being able to have some sense of normalcy in the classroom is something that I am very thankful for – especially when every week more and more schools were shut down due to outbreaks of COVID-19. It is so easy, especially in trying times, to look at things from a negative perspective. Even though some things were limited or had even changed drastically, the fact that we were able to navigate the “new normal” on campus is something that not many people around the country can say. Attending in-person lectures, completing modified labs, and being able to continue practicing with my teammates at a time when many other schools in our conference didn’t even have the opportunity to be together was a blessing we were all made better for. College is more than just the means to an end; it is a culminating experience that is made up of all of the little moments. Still having those little moments of joy during a time when it’s harder to see the joy in life is something that we all too often underappreciate.

One of the biggest lessons many of us have learned from the pandemic is the importance of adaptability and patience. As with most new things, there are always some growing pains associated with it, and boy did Juniata grow quite a bit. Truthfully, I had very little faith in the ability for Juniata to both adapt and thrive, and yet here we are, a semester later, and I have never been prouder of my school. Plus, who knows? Maybe Baker will even be back to normal soon. After the trial run of last semester, some of my classes are almost completely back to pre-pandemic functioning – except for wearing masks of course. There are fewer kids on Zoom, more group projects (even though I love to hate them), and more opportunities inside of the classroom for everyone to enhance their individual learning experiences. Looking ahead to this semester, I’m even more hopeful for what this semester will bring – and hopefully I get to play a home softball game or two at the very least.