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The Class of 2021

Excitement and fear mix as college students return to campus

Posted August 11, 2020 5:37 p.m. EDT
Updated August 11, 2020 5:52 p.m. EDT

For most students, returning back to a university campus after summer break is, in many ways, like being welcomed home for the holidays. There are lots of hugs, laughs and a drink or two. This year, there are no hugs and what laughs are had are shared through a screen, just like almost everything else related to school.

Students at UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State University and Duke University are back on campus en masse for the first time in more than five months. The differences are eerie.

“It is … I don't want to say sad, but it’s sad. The quad is normally just a very lively place, and right now looking around it is just us and two people there walking by,” said Vivian Le, a senior at UNC Chapel-Hill. “This is supposed to be the place and time where everyone hangs out, throws Frisbee, sunbathes, but now it's just so empty.”

That is to say, it feels like excitement and fear are playing tug-o-war.

“I am excited but nervous,” said Le. “I get eager to walk around and just meet new friends, but then I remember we are in the middle of a global pandemic.”

UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University both reconvened in-person classes at reduced capacity on Monday. Bryce Royal, a NCSU senior, feels that returning to classrooms so soon is putting lives on the line.

“Knowing how effective this virus is, it is almost like rolling the dice with student lives. I think at this point schools are trying to minimize the damage, but at the end of the day there will be damage done and there probably will be lives lost,” says Royal.

While masks may prevent widespread transmission in the classroom, some fear it is students’ own homes that will become the breeding grounds for the spread of COVID-19.

“I guess I don’t trust my peers,” said Duke University senior Sharmi Amin. “Everybody thinks that they are kind of doing the most by wearing their masks in public spaces, but people won’t wear them in social settings like in an apartment or in a house. People don’t understand necessarily that those are the spaces where the virus will spread.”

Amin also sympathizes with the professors putting themselves at risk in the classroom, emphasizing that the “student experience” is not the only thing on the line. Because of concerns about university faculty and staff, workers and students have held multiple protests at UNC Chapel Hill, including a “Die-In” on Aug. 5.

“Students are very obsessed with their own experiences, what they are going to have or what they are going to miss out on,” said Amin. “I know sometimes it's hard to remember that professors are afraid for their own health.”

Senior year was originally supposed to be governed by the phrase “work hard, play hard,” but the reality is far from that.

As a college senior myself, this year is really scary. Having to return to what could end up being a COVID-19 hotspot to get my degree in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic, a nationwide racial reckoning and widespread financial hardships, all while job opportunities for recent graduates crumble away is a lot.

Uncertainty is almost certain for college seniors. But for the class of 2021 it seems our questions outweigh the answers tenfold.

“Honestly, I don’t know what tomorrow looks like or what next week looks like,” said Le. “Carolina is a very fast-paced school – everyone, including me, is always trying to do something. But this is teaching me how to slow down, take things day by day, enjoy the little things and spend time with the people that I love.”

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About this Blog:

Payton Tysinger is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a member of the coronavirus Class of 2021. He has agreed to chronicle an academic year unlike any other through the eye of his peers.