A year after COVID-19 sent them packing, students now look forward to the end of the pandemic in sight

By Madison E. Goldberg, Managing Editor

Exactly one year ago, Emerson’s students were sent back to their homes across the country as COVID-19 made its way through the historic streets of Boston, and onto the campus that we call home.

This was a reversal of the college’s earlier decision to transition to online learning with the option of remaining on campus. Within a bleak few days, students abruptly packed their lives in boxes and said goodbye to their plans. But now, a year down the road and a vaccine making its way through the country, students are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel after all that was lost.

This beacon of hope has many students, myself included, dreaming of the days when the pandemic is finally over. With the vaccine being distributed to Gen Z soon, I’m hoping to have my friends from both Emerson and my hometown in New Jersey come visit my new home of Franklin, Tennessee, where I moved to nearly three years ago. I’m also looking forward to potentially going to concerts again–after all, I do live just outside of Music City now. 

Despite the many things I’ve missed this year, I felt fortunate to have a safe place to go home to and spend time with my family. But the fork in the road for my plans is minor compared to the massive changes some other students experienced.

Megan D’Souza, a junior public relations major, was sent home from the Disney College Program (DCP) on March 15, 2020. The DCP is a five to seven month program in which college students get to work in Disney World’s parks while also completing related college coursework. She had first planned to participate in the program 10 years ago. 

“It was truly everything I could have dreamed and more, plus not being able to say proper goodbyes to everyone is what added to the heartbreak of it ending so suddenly,” D‘Souza said.

The program inspired D’Souza to change her major from journalism to public relations, and she hopes to continue working with Disney at the corporate level after graduation. D’Souza said after receiving the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine recently, she plans to reunite with her friends from the DCP this summer, and potentially make a trip back to “the most magical place on earth.” 

“I feel a lot safer traveling now that I’ve been vaccinated,” D’Souza said. “I hope to visit some of my friends who live across the country, and definitely hope to visit [Disney World] sometime this summer, even if just as a guest. Ideally, in the future, I’d love to go back to working there.” 

The pandemic’s initial spread about a year ago also canceled the college’s numerous Global Pathways programs last summer. Among them was the sports communication-focused program in Sydney, Australia.

Sophomore Sam DeCoste was among the students set to participate. The program includes two sports communication classes from May to July, and would have set DeCoste on track to graduate a semester early. 

“I’ve never seen that part of the world, and was looking forward to it,” DeCoste said. “It would’ve been a great opportunity for personal growth.”

DeCoste said he’s looking forward to the prospect of potentially being able to travel, visit friends, and work on his future career this summer. 

“I’m looking forward to traveling more–maybe even seeing my friends who live in other parts of the country, like California and Texas,” DeCoste said. “But the number one thing I’m looking forward to next year is going to the Superbowl with WEBN. It’s one of the reasons why I came to Emerson.”

Other students found themselves missing loved ones. Junior political communication major Sara Hathaway hasn’t seen either of her sisters, one living in the U.K. and the other living in Las Vegas, since Christmas 2019. Now that Hathaway has been vaccinated, a reunion this summer is finally in sight.

“Even though I am still a bit worried about travel, the number one thing I want to do is see my sisters again,” Hathaway said. “I’m really holding out hope that either I can go out to visit her in the U.K. or that she can come back to the U.S. this summer. It would also be nice if I could go over there to start looking at graduate schools.”

Hathaway’s sisters are some of her “best friends,” and being separated from them this past year has been difficult, she said. 

“It’s so hard to maintain closeness when you can’t even be physically close once a year,”  Hathaway said. “My mom, my sisters, and I started getting on FaceTime and baking something, or doing things we would do in person together, just to try and make it seem like normal.”

Students are also looking forward to the eventual return to some normalcy in day-to-day life. Sophomore journalism major Grace Rispoli lamented about how much she misses simple, everyday aspects of her pre-pandemic life.

“When I first came home, my mom couldn’t even hug me,” said Rispoli. 

She said she hopes to head home to Illinois this summer and safely reunite with her family and friends, and possibly even travel to new destinations this summer.

“I can’t wait for the simple things, like not having to wear masks anymore. We’re all just twenty-something trying to get jobs and graduate college with this added barrier of the pandemic. I can’t wait to work on the trajectory of my life again without this added on the side.” 

It is important to acknowledge that travel and internships are privileges. Throughout this pandemic, Americans across the country have struggled with food insecurity, homelessness, and job loss. Additionally, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted BIPOC communities at alarmingly higher rates. The pandemic has only exposed these long standing issues that have impacted marginalized groups–hopefully, with awareness, comes action.

Massachusetts recently entered Phase 2 of its vaccination program, focusing on those 65 and older, those with two or more medical conditions, those who work in low-income or senior housing, and K-12 educators, staff, and childcare workers. Starting April 19, the general adult population will be eligible for the vaccine. 

Here’s to a vaccinated, COVID-free future, coming to a city near you. May we always appreciate the smiles in the street and the hugs from loved ones, because moments like these, though simple, are fleeting.