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College Life in The Pandemic's New Normal: Zoom University

Hannah Stickel
Hannah Stickel's last semester at Kent State was upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ohio college students just finished their spring semester that was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. In early March, schools stopped in-person classes and switched to remote learning, upending campus life.

A Kent State University journalism class spent the week after Spring Break recording diaries about their experience. Hannah Stickel named her last semester, "Zoom University."

Wait and see what happens
A college senior, two weeks into quarantine, reflects on what they are missing out on while adjusting to the new normal. They find solace in the creative projects assigned by their classes and hopes for the boredom to end soon. The college philosophy “wait and see what happens” takes on a whole new meaning. 

Well, I’m pretty darn bored.

I’m not sure that's unique to my situation. I have to say I started doing homework again this past Saturday, and it actually brought some structure back into my life. Who would have thought that homework would be nice?

"We are so isolated at the moment, but everyone is in it together."

We’ve been gravitating toward comedies lately; before all of us head off to bed, we all want to watch something funny and not depressing.

I miss my roommates, that's for sure. Last week of quarantine, we just built a pillow fort and lived in it before we all had to move out.

Back to school
Today is the first day of school since spring break. I’m glad we had spring break — I definitely needed that adjustment. I was not productive for sure. I have a stack of books I can read and a long list of TV shows I've been wanting to watch, but I've gotten through very little of it. My aunt had come back home from France temporarily before the pandemic, but since they won't let her fly back,  she’s staying with us.

It is amazing to me that is has only been two weeks. Everything in my life has completely flipped around. As a senior, it's just a long list of things we are going to be missing.

I have a really cool summer job at a summer-stock theatre that I'm hoping I get to keep. We start in two months. If that gets canceled, I'm going to be really bummed about it. Hopefully by the end of May, we’ll have this figured out a little more.

Today, for the first time in about two weeks, I woke up to an alarm. One bonus of this whole situation is instead of having to wake up at 8:00 a.m. for my 9:15 a.m. class, I can wake up at 9:00 a.m. Especially since we don't actually meet in person, we just have assignments for the day that are due by the end of “class time.” I've spent a lot of time on screens lately, preparing for both online classes and just streaming and goofing off in general, considering there aren't a lot of other options at the moment.

My eyes hurt. They feel like I've spent an all-nighter finishing a project, and it's not how they normally feel when you've spent too much time — it's like over-exposure to screens.

In the same boat
Some people talk about the social media trend "#alonetogether." I've been in touch with my friends that I made when I studied abroad last spring, and everybody is so dedicated toward checking in with each other, seeing how everybody is doing in different parts of the world. The thing that's helping us get through all this is the fact that everybody is in the same boat — every single person. We are so isolated at the moment, but everyone is in it together. And it's been nice. Even though I haven't seen a lot of my friends, I've been playing games online with them or video chatting or just texting or talking in general. They are still a part of my life, and I think it's really cool that we are trying to keep that up.

I think it's safe to say that another thing effectively canceled by the coronavirus is April Fools' Day.

"I feel like I have no plan and no job, both I had literally 24 hours ago."

There is a particular song that has been on my mind a lot lately. It's called "Time in a Bottle" by Jim Croce. It’s been playing in my head on repeat all week. One of the lyrics in the chorus goes, “There never seems to be enough time to do the things you wanna do." The song is very folk-oriented — a guitar and very minimal. 

I’m sure when all this is over, when I look back at the events of this past week, this song is definitely going to bring me back there. I can't help but wonder if Jim Croce knew what it was like to actually have time in a bottle, and I think someone should tell him it's not exactly what it's cracked up to be.

I had a cinematography project that was due today. The assignment was my life in the time of the coronavirus, and my whole project centered around this song. I filmed a lot of different clocks and did a montage sequence throughout my day. I got out a white board and kept track of whatever day of quarantine I was in. The whole time I was planning this project, "Time in a Bottle" was playing in my head. That's really what it feels like. And I find it interesting because I finished this project, and I turned it in and luckily my professor liked the concept.

Credit Hannah Stickel
Hannah keeping track of her days in quarantine.

But I sent it to a bunch of my friends and one of my friends thought it was really depressing and another one of my friends thought it was uplifting. And both of them talked about the fact that I used the song "Time in a Bottle." I think that really speaks to what's going on right now. Those different interpretations of my interpretation of what my experience is currently, but you know art can be subjective, and I thought that was kind of cool. Everyone took something different from it, and it was therapeutic to make it. I had to shoot it on my iPhone instead of a camera so that was an adjustment, but I like that it got me doing something creative while I'm cooped up at home. 

Getting out of the house
Today has been a good day. I got out of the house. I took my car and went for a long drive.

But when I was driving, I was in a lot of neighborhoods, and I saw a lot of people out. I saw a group of girls on their bikes hanging in a tight group talking to a neighbor. It's frustrating that some people aren't taking this as seriously. I want this to be over as quickly as possible, and that's only going to happen if everybody listens to the social distancing.

I went for a really good run this morning. I got back and saw an email from Porthouse. Porthouse is the summer stock theatre I had a position with this summer. I was going to be in the box office and get to hang around Kent for the summer.  

I pretty much knew what it was before I read it. Everything has just been extended toward the end of the month — the quarantine and the social distancing, It’s still disappointing to read that email, to have everything formally canceled. 

The summer stock is an opportunity through the university that I haven't been able to take advantage of yet, but this summer I was really excited about it. I had thought that if we could all still have Porthouse, it would be OK to have missed everything else.  

I’m a senior and since reading that email, I know it's not my fault, and it's the same boat that everyone is in. But suddenly, I'm graduating without a plan. I feel like I have no plan and no job, both I had literally 24 hours ago. I’m nothing if not adaptable. But right now, I’m just going to have to see what happens.

What's happening since then: 
Since the recording of this diary, I created a video project centered around chocolate cake, attended a Zoom banquet that involved 206 people, congratulated my cousin on her graduation from a safe 10-feet away, saw my aunt able to travel back to France, finished one senior capstone, fulfilled my secret ambition of airing on public radio, and, as of this publication, become a proud graduate of Kent State University.