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365 days later: Students recall how COVID-19 disrupted their college experience

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Flatten The Curve Library

Katie Drake was sitting at her spring break rental house in Gulf Shores, Alabama, without a care in the world –– or a mask in sight. Then Oklahoma State sent out a message to students stating they would not be returning to campus after spring break. 

“All the seniors that I was with started crying. They were so upset that this was the end of their senior year. Just like that,” Drake said. 

She had been enjoying spring break at a beach house with her sorority sisters when they heard the news.

There were an additional two weeks put on the tail end of the break. Students had many emotions, both good and bad, that they would not be able to return to campus right away. Little did they know those three weeks would soon turn into months, with students not returning to campus until the fall, and the Stillwater they knew and loved turning into a ghost town.

This week marks one year since the world flipped upside down as coronavirus swept the nation. At this point there were only a handful of cases in Oklahoma. 

A typical spring semester at OSU was far different than this new change of pace. Restaurants had to close their doors, the Strip was empty on warm weekend nights, the Atherton Hotel was empty all of May, but would usually have been filled with reservations of proud parents on graduation weekend.

The past 365 days were  filled with millions of coronavirus cases, with thousands of those cases impacting  OSU students and the Stillwater community.

At that point, the semester was just postponed for two weeks. However, it was emotional for those that suspected that it would take more than a couple of weeks for America to recover. 

Similar to Drake’s recollection of the day, many OSU students were already at their Spring Break destinations, because at the time there were still no travel restrictions or a stigma around traveling.

Will Hentges, an Oklahoma State student, was in Utah for the break. 

“We were scared to go to the grocery store even though there were only three cases in the state,” said Hentges. “We got the message that we were not going back to school and we were like ‘well, maybe that is fine since it is just two weeks’ and now it is a whole year later.”

Some students were elated that there was an extra two weeks of spring break, thinking they would simply get more time on vacation. Others were correctly skeptical that they would not be returning to school.  

Kendall Suess, an OSU student, says that she was not even too happy about having to leave Stillwater in the first place-- let alone two weeks, let alone the remainder of the semester.

“I was so mad. I really did not understand the severity of it at the time,” said Suess. 

Nathan Kraemer was still on campus. He was in the library studying when he got the notification from OSU that students would not be returning.

“I’m a realist by experience, but I’m an idealist by heart,” said Kraemer. “I was hoping that the coronavirus wouldn’t be that big of a deal but, of course, I was wrong. I was a combination of frustrated, disappointed, and depressed. I wasn’t the only one either. A lot of things were canceled which I believe contributed to the decline of students’ mental health.”

 It is exactly one year later and this week OSU announced that the University Health Services can now vaccinate all students and staff. The pandemic is still not over, but many would consider this a light at the end of the tunnel. Reflecting on a year ago brings back many emotions and stories for all who have been college students during this pandemic, who can only hope that by this time next year it is history.