16 stories, in their words, on how the last semester fell apart for the seniors at Emerson College
May 10, 2020
The Beacon Magazine interviewed 16 different seniors to get their perspective on how the coronavirus pandemic upended their final year on campus. All of the words in this edition are their own, with no additional writing added. All accounts were edited and condensed for clarity. This inaugural magazine is meant to serve as a time capsule. A legacy to the Class of 2020. The class who against insurmountable and unprecedented odds, still powered forward through their senior year, forever cementing their names as the ones who survived this pandemic. One day we’ll look back on these days and we’ll remember not only the sacrifice that everyone was forced to make, but also the incredible love and kindness that everyone has exhibited. You are all entering the workforce in a difficult and turbulent time, but if Emerson has taught us anything, it’s to look straight into the face of adversity and face it with unparalleled strength. We are only as strong as our peers, and together, united as one, we will overcome all that is thrown at us, because at our core we are Emersonians: confident, creative, and courageous.
Visual and Media Arts
When I got the email that said campus was closing, I was in the library. I tend to linger sometimes there when I know I should probably head home, and this day I really wish I did go home early, be- cause having to digest that on the T home was not ideal at all. It was the exact same feeling when I knew I was about to receive news that my grand-mother had passed away. A whole cloud covers everyone, because you can kind of feel it in the air, everyone is getting notified at the same time. You are surrounded by people who are now feeling exactly the same as you. It was weird because I can never tell how other people are feeling. But this time, the confusion of what was going on, and what we were headed towards, all started to kick in.
I was naive enough to think that it was only going to end with Emerson. I didn’t think for a second, in the moment, that it would actually become this widespread across the country. I was initially afraid of 2020, even before all this, because of my graduation year. Once you get that diploma, it’s like, well, what am I going to do now? What’s my job outlook? And now it’s only gotten even grayer, because it feels like the industry itself has been shut down.
I spent three years in community college before Emerson. I can understand the pain of seniors that have been here since freshman year, but I had to condense four years into two. And it was not, and has not, been easy. I’ve wanted to come to Emerson since I was a junior in high school, in 2014, and to see it crash like this, I take as a personal slap in the face—not that I have anyone to blame. There has never been a time when I anticipated my education more than Emerson, ever. This was the only time I ever wanted to willingly be come a part of an educational institution.
People want to move commencement to the fall, and some people might be worried, ‘Well, what if we’re not available in the fall?’ and I’m saying I will be available for fall no matter what. This was a milestone. It was enough that I got accepted to begin with—I have never felt a happier moment in my life than when I opened the acceptance letter. Never has there been a more joyful or proud moment, that I kind of felt like maybe I did matter. If I were to have the option to walk next year, with the class of 2021, I would take that in a heartbeat.
An accomplishment that I know I did do was establishing the Access Student Disability Union. Because that I know, even if it doesn’t directly relate to what I came here for, I will have made a difference for our future Emersonians.
I hope that we will continue to help each other out. I know I can’t ask for a rain check for experiences missed. I can plead to Lee Pelton all I want but that’s not his problem. It sucks. I was really looking forward to going out with a bang, and now it feels like I’m going out with a crunch.
Visual and Media Arts
When the second email came out saying we had to leave, it was more like a rush, especially because after spring break. It’s my favorite time being in Boston. I was excited that I could go home because I had been getting homesick, but then slowly it started to sink in.
I’m part of Kappa Gamma Ki and I was one of the chairs of Emeralds Empowerment, a week-long event that is dedicated to women’s issues, and we were going to have an art gallery that was just going to be women of Boston and the Emerson community. We were also working with Active Minds and we were going to have a Foreplay Party that was going to be talking about female pleasure. That was kind of a pit because we had spent so much time on it. In the past, the event was more about sexual abuse and domestic violence, so this was the first time we were going to kind of go broader than that.
When they sent the first email saying classes were canceled, I knew everything else was going to get canceled. I knew some people that were like, ‘oh I know they can’t cancel commencement.’ But, I knew there was no way they were gonna have commencement if they didn’t even want to have 15 people in a classroom. It’s very disappointing. I’m a first-gen in my family, so I was really looking forward to just being able to take the pictures and go to the ceremony.
For me, it’s part of that college experience. Having been to the past two graduations, I was like ‘oh my gosh, next year is us.’
I come from a high school where not a lot of people leave for college, and I was the first person in my high school to go out of state, straight to a fouryear. It’s just kind of a thing that doesn’t really happen, so it was going to be super exciting being able to share that moment with my mom.
Theater and Performance
The first person I called was my mom. Both my parents are immigrants, so I feel like sometimes things can go over her head because I don’t even think she gets the parent emails or anything. I’m from Boston, so I wasn’t going anywhere. I always knew that was a privilege; I never had to worry about moving across the country or taking a train or anything like that.
I’m a first-generation college student. I think every first-generation student has their own feelings about college. For me, for my whole life, my parents have been telling me that I’m going to go to college, I’m going to get a bachelor’s degree. I’ve envisioned myself doing that for such a long time. I still graduated, I still have my bachelor’s degree, all that is still there, it’s just pretty sad to not be around friends and families to celebrate the accomplishments.
I’m the Student Government Association Class of 2020 president, so I had literally just planned all of senior week. And then this happened. The only reason I became class president was to plan senior week, and then it didn’t happen. I’ve been keeping myself busy, so I don’t think about it, really. It’s hard to dwell on something when you’re busy doing work and applying to jobs, things like that. Jason Meier and me and a group of seniors have been working closely trying their best to make sure that our celebrations do happen, and trying to make sure the class of 2020 isn’t pushed aside—that Emerson does recognize us, and recognize the work that we’ve put into our college careers for the past four years.
I think I’ll miss the sense of community at Emerson the most. Where Boylston and Tremont intersect, you see everyone and anyone, and you say hi to 10 different people. Being able to see my friends and having all of my friends in one space is really nice. I had no plans this summer, I was just going to get a summer job. I’m a tour guide at Emerson, so I wanted to be a tour guide at Fenway Park. Clearly that’s not happening, because baseball season is canceled. Now I’m scrambling and trying to figure out where I’m going to get income. I don’t even know what kind of job I should get right now—it’s a very confusing time in that sense.
I’m currently in an apartment in East Boston, and I do have plans to move back home at the end of this month purely to save money. It really depends on the situation, but my goal has been to move to LA by September, and that’s still my goal.
I was at my desk finishing work for one of my internships because we had just been ordered to start working remotely that day for that internship. I checked my email and saw the email from President Pelton and I heard my roommates react and I was like ‘oh no.’ So I walked to their room and it was very emotional. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do because, obviously, I hadn’t planned to leave ELA that early and I didn’t want to go home, so that was kind of my first thought after getting the email.
I had a bunch of friends that had to scramble to figure out housing really last minute, like lease-signing kind of stuff. People were rushing into things because we only had a week, and people were really nervous and acting out of hysteria and emotion. I didn’t want to go home—it felt like going home would take me off a certain trajectory that I was on. I can recognize that I absolutely acted out of emotion, as well, because all these things I had planned for two months in advance were expedited and I was not ready to do them.
Obviously, just leaving college and starting your life in general is really scary. But I’m not going to miss having to balance my time between school, work, organizations, sleep, and socializing. Like doing that killed me. It was
fun, wonderful—I had a fine experience at Emerson, and did what I wanted to do. But also, I am so tired. It takes such a toll, just like emotionally, mentally, and physically. I will miss having the space and ability to work on projects that I care about, and have the creative kind of input and control that I’ve had in various projects at Emerson, that I know I won’t have for at least a while.
I do want a physical graduation. I think everyone does, right? We’ve worked so hard for four years. To not be able to experience that feels like something is missing, some thing is incomplete. If it were to happen in the fall, I would absolutely go and cross the stage. It’s a big accomplishment not only for me but for my family and like I want them to be able to see that. Virtual? How is a virtual graduation going to work? You tell me. I have no idea how that would work. Zoom? You want to have a Zoom with hundreds of students? No. I’m hopeful-ish and I want it because I know it’s important to me and my friends and my family.
Photo: Will Van Gelder/Courtesy
Will Van Gelder
Visual and Media Arts
I was in my dorm room, at ELA, sitting at my desk. I knew it was gonna happen like an hour or two before because my girlfriend is friends with an RA. When they moved classes online in Boston, I knew that would happen in LA. And also, I was like, ‘This dorm is like a petri dish for this thing. They’re gonna have to close the dorms.’ So I thought it would happen.
At first, I was sort of like, ‘What am I gonna do? Like, this is crazy.’ My internship already ended a few days before, because of this, so I was sort of already like ‘I’m screwed’ because my internship is over.
I feel like college was just fun. Especially when I was in Boston, I loved seeing friends around campus. So I guess I’ll just miss running into them all the time, and maybe that will happen again in the future, but who knows how long that’s going to be.
I had a great first semester, I made a bunch of new friends. I liked going to the Tam, for the first couple of times. I’d never gone before this year.
I actually didn’t totally have a plan for the summer, even before this. I was planning on coming back to Boston, and honestly like, I just got back earlier. I got this job with the Ed Markey campaign after I got back so luckily this didn’t really ruin any of my plans.
I think it would have been cool to graduate, and it would have been a fun thing, but I’m not a very sentimental person. I was never really the type of person who was like, ‘Can’t wait to walk across that stage!’ I didn’t really care.
Honestly, it’s a bummer, but I’m kind of glad that I got this much of college, at least 3 and 3/4 worth of it.
Visual and Media Arts
I was visiting an Emerson Channel show my friends were working on, and we were helping to strike the set and clean everything up. Once we left the building to go get dinner, we immediately got the email that things were going to be closing. It wasn’t the hardest news that I was facing that day. By that time, I knew that the EVVYs were shut down. I honestly saw it coming; it wasn’t something that came out of the dark. But it was the final gut punch in a way. You hear that x, y, z is closing, but you still kind of have that glimmer of hope that you can stay on campus and things will have some sense of normalcy, but I think that was the final nail.
The thing I’ll miss most about Emerson is probably all the opportunities that were presented to me. I had a chance to explore my interests more and get more experience in areas that I’m interested in career-wise without it being a totally high stakes situation. My favorite experience has been the EVVY awards. I’ve worked on the EVVYs every year that I’ve been at Emerson. I’ve always made really amazing friends from working in the show, and it’s always been the most challenging part of my year, in a good way. It challenges me to do better and do more.
I was the director of the EVVYs this year, so it was definitely really upsetting. It’s hard, because especially when you’re directing broadcasts, the brunt of our work has yet to come. After spring break is when our work really started to pick up, but it came to a really quick end. It’s obviously unfortunate for everyone, but it’s hard from our division because we can’t see most of our work come to fruition.
I’ve worked on the EVVYs every year that I’ve been at Emerson, and it’s always been the most challenging part of my year in a good way. I’ve made really amazing friends from working the show and it’s always just been a really high intense, collaborative effort that I’ve been super grateful for. I think at the end of the day it defines my Emerson experience more than anything else.
I had a really good studio internship lined up for the summer that got canceled a few weeks ago. It’s definitely frustrating and annoying, but I guess I saw it coming, because everything is so crazy. In New York, especially, it is not getting better anytime soon. There’s still a chance there in the future, so it’s not totally heartbreaking. I lived on campus. I’m a third-year, but this is my last year. I had enough credits to graduate early, and I feel like I’ve gotten everything I wanted to out of my Emerson experience this year, or at least I would have gotten everything I wanted, if things didn’t get crazy.
When campus closed, I went back home to Long Island. It honestly wasn’t super stressful. Because the email was sent on a Friday, and the mentality of the school was like, ‘You have one week to get out,’ and my parents work during the week, I was like, ‘You have to pick me up this weekend.’ My dad picked me up on Sunday, two days after we got kicked out. It was definitely a last-minute scramble to pack up my dorm and get all my stuff together, but it ultimately wasn’t super difficult. I’m fortunate enough that my parents were in the position to drop everything they were doing on that Sunday and drive up to Boston and pick me up. My mom works in a hospital, so honestly, the odds of her giving it to me were higher than the odds of me giving it to her.
I didn’t expect commencement to happen, with everything being canceled. It’s unfortunate, but they claim they’re gonna postpone it, so personally, that’s fine with me. Obviously it feels weird to finish school and just be home, be like, ‘Now what?’ but it’s kind of a new normal. I’m not trying to dwell on it too much, because I guess this is the way things have to be.
Photo: Kassiani Mamalakis/Courtesy
Theater Education and Performance
At ELA I think we all had a sense that something was gonna happen with us, but we all thought we were safe for the most part at the start. The email came out that said no changes are coming to the LA campus right now so we were all like, okay cool. But then that Friday, I was at one of my internships and just doing a lot of different work, it was a crazy day in the office. Then at four o’clock we got the email saying we had to be kicked off campus by next week and that all of our classes were going online. I think I just didn’t know what to do. Do I ask to leave my internship? I just learned that I have nowhere to live anymore but the office was like ‘No we’re definitely going to keep people here and we’re going to keep people working in the office’ so I was like ‘okay then, I guess my internship is still on.’ So do I leave? Do I go home? But then I was like ‘No, I guess I want this to be as normal as possible.’ So I didn’t actually end up leaving work till like seven o’clock, instead of like six, just because I was like, ‘oh my gosh, is this the last time I’m gonna be at my internship?’ I said goodbye to people. I thanked my internship supervisor, for everything, and she was like ‘Kassi, I’ve never gotten to tell you but the moment we interviewed you, your passion for life and this industry, we got off and we knew we were hiring you.’ So I think that was a little bit of closure.
Ironically enough I had friends who were touring apartments that Friday, and I got a call on my way home from work and they asked me if I would sign an apartment with them. I finally just had gotten used to working full time and started being really excited about it and all these things and now people are talking about living in apartments and paying rent in LA. I think it was like, overnight I went from being a college student to growing up.
I think I’m in the best place for this to happen. Like, we as the senior class are losing the least. I really think me being in Los Angeles, already it just pushed into, I have to make a decision. I have to do it now. I have to start saving money, you have to start budgeting and it’s time to grow up. Yeah, we lost a month, maybe two months of being kids, but this was coming for us. I think I’m bummed about senior week and not getting to reconnect. And I just think that everyone else has it so much worse, just because we were about to be adults anyway.
There’s a part of me that’s so incredibly upset about commencement just because that’s our rite of passage. Above all, it was that unification of all of us being all together, as much as everything at Emerson is segregated, that’s the moment we’re all together and we all get to connect. You just love on people and celebrate and so I think I’m frustrated. But I think it’s hard to feel too, when there’s so much going on. I almost feel numb to that when there’s other things that I’m so frustrated and sad and angry about, but I think it’s that unity that I’m going to really miss. My family already had trips booked. My grandparents are getting a lot older. So it was kind of this notion that this might be it.
I’m going to miss walking down the street, within that four-block radius, and just seeing people I know or my friends, whether that be from Closing Time or the EVVYs or the TV studio. My day down the street was like a Thursday night at the Tam where you have these different groups. I love those nights at the Tam because I knew someone from every group and it felt like all my friends were finally in the same room. When you’re a grown-up or living in an apartment, just in a random neighborhood, you don’t really run into your friends all the time. And I think that’s what I’m going to miss most.
Correction 5/12: A previous version of this entry incorrectly stated Mamalakis’ major. She is studying theatre education and performance.
Visual and Media Arts
The Friday we found out in Los Angeles that we would all have to leave, everyone was like ‘Okay, senior week starts now, it’s this weekend.’ Everyone was kind of going around like ‘We’ve been friends since freshman year, I can’t believe this is it.’ So suddenly, you had to say everything you wanted to say to people, because it was the last time you would see them for a long time.
I’ve been wanting to come to this campus since I toured the school when I was 16 or 17. Just all of that coming to a really sudden close was pretty traumatic. The whole weekend was just so hyper-emotional and I’m glad I experienced it with a group of friends when I heard the news. We were all just consoling each other and dealing with it as best as we could. Me and my roommate went on a drive and were blasting music and fully upset.
We thought we’d have all this time, last memories, and all that. It was sad leaving, and just scary seeing walls be sanitized and everyone with masks. Being in the airport truly felt so dystopian. Just going through security and not knowing how much I was touching, if I should use gloves then, and just trying to wash my hands—but ultimately knowing everything I was touching was exposed. I was going from LAX to JFK, which are two huge international airports. I’m a really experienced flyer; both of my parents work for airlines so I’m super comfortable in airports,but I have never felt less comfortable in a travel situation. I just had the most sudden traumatic end to my four-year college experience, like don’t look at me the wrong way or I’ll start crying again.
Now to be home, I feel like I’m in a fever dream where the past three-and-a-half to four years didn’t happen.
I miss the people at Emerson the most. My best friend only lived a couple of floors above me in 2B so I really miss being able to just take the elevator and go see her. I miss all of my classes. I used to hate getting up for my 10 a.m. classes but I feel like I took all of those moments for granted. I just miss being a normal college student.
When I got the email that we were transitioning to online classes, I was in my dorm room. I had basically been expecting it all day. I kept refreshing my email while I was watching The Bachelor on Monday. I was alone by myself in my dorm room but I had my mom on the phone right after I got the email. I learned my best friend was leaving to go home so I was really upset. And then obviously I was upset because I had planned for this year to be so great. I was hoping that I would be able to enjoy the last few months without being stressed and I wanted to enjoy just being in college.
Getting my capstone done was something I was really worried about. When we first got the email, I just had a million questions running through my mind. How am I going to be able to interview my source? How am I going to pass my capstone class? Is my professor still going to be really strict with us? It ended up being okay in the end, which was great, but it was definitely very stressful.
After graduation I was planning on looking for jobs in LA or New York but with everything being so uncertain, my perspective about being away from home is different now. Just thinking about applying to jobs and being away from home in this scary time is really hard. So I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Honestly if I can get paid, I’ll be happy wherever I end up.
There’s this infinity of little small moments that make up all your time at Emerson. I was looking forward to another Tam Thursday, things like that. There’s the big events, but even just all the minute, microscopic moments that I was excited to have with my friends.
Already, senior year is such a turbulent period of time in people’s lives, and then with this, not only is school being uprooted, but just the entirety of everyone’s lives. I had one final goodbye with my basketball team, but it was so rushed. I was looking forward to the whole spring semester; graduating and having that big ceremony with the class, enjoying the Boston spring and seeing all the flowers bloom, being able to hang out with my friends in the garden, and all that.
It didn’t leave a lot of room to really process, and even now, I think there’s certain days where the finality of what’s actually happening kind of hits you in waves, like, ‘Wow, I’m actually done with college now.’ I get more emotional some days than others. It’s strange—not having that final goodbye and sense of closure.
I was excited for the commencement. I’m not utterly heartbroken at the moment, but it definitely was something I was looking forward to. My parents were going to fly out from Santa Fe. They haven’t really been to many Emerson-related functions since orientation. My dad came out for my senior game, but aside from that, that was pretty much it. So that would have been a big, nice moment, where our whole family could get together.
The basketball team are some of my best friends. I’m so grateful and thankful that the start and end of my collegiate career was surrounded by great teammates and friends off the court. I kept telling my coach I’m so thankful that our season had just ended. Obviously I was heartbroken when it ended because I’m a senior and that was the last time I’ll play that kind of competitive basketball, but my heart just broke when I realized all the spring athletes didn’t even have an opportunity to all play together.
I live in East Boston, and all my stuff is actually still there. I kept telling one of my roommates who was still living in the apartment that I’d just go home for a couple weeks—it’s been two months now. I’m actually going to fly back out to Boston in June to ship some things back. My lease ends in August, and so from there, I have really no idea. I don’t know if I’ve fully processed that I’m completely done with college and have zero structure in my life at the moment. My parents moved here to New Mexico after I finished high school, and we don’t know anyone here, so I’ve been doing a lot of Zoom calls with the people I used to live with.
I’m glad I’m not in a close-quarters city, dealing with a really dense, urban living environment right now. Instead, I have a lot of free space and clean air, and it’s just a little more relaxing. We’ll go outside to go on hikes or things like that, and just get a little fresh air. My mom actually works at a hospital as a case manager. She comes home and leaves all her things outside and puts them in separate containers, and then washes her clothes, takes a shower, things like that. Everything is staying pretty much as sanitized and clean as possible, so I feel pretty comfortable.
I remember the very first day of orientation, I met Sam Dearborn and Cam Pazol, and became best friends with them, and still live with Sam today. I definitely know I will maintain those relationships and friendships throughout my entire life. In high school, I definitely didn’t feel too close with anyone, and I kind of never really found my group of people that I thought I’d be friends with for life, and I definitely seem to have found that at Emerson. Silly, stupid moments with my friends, I think I’ll cherish the most. All the friendships that I’ve fostered over the years at Emerson are definitely going to be missed. But then again, those are things that won’t leave, and I’ll keep throughout the years, so I’m very happy that Emerson brought all those people into my life.
I talk to some of my friends and they’re like, ‘It’s kind of nice not really having to figure out life right now, because pretty much everything is on hold.’ In a sense that’s true, but it’s also a little scary, because I’m not sure when things were going to start up again and when I’ll have a stable job. I have no source of income right now, and my landlord in Boston is very obstinate about paying the full rent on time, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to get the funding. So that’s been a challenge, but I also do think now I’ll have more free time on my hands because I’m done with classes, so I definitely am going to try and use this time to hone different talents, stay creative, and be somewhat resourceful and productive during this time, to put myself in a better position for when there are more job opportunities in the future. I’ll have more potential abilities on my resume that could help land a job.
I’m not a VMA student, but all the people I live with are VMA students, and I will say I’m always an extra or would witness their process in the 48 Hour Film Festival. Those were honestly some of the most hilarious moments, just seeing their creativity off no sleep, an absurd amount of coffee and Redbull and hot cheetos, and the kind of projects they would come up with were always highly entertaining and something I will not forget.
Photo: Abigail Semple/Courtesy
Visual and Media Arts
I was in the Student Government Association office with my roommate and he went out and bought a balloon from CVS and I was doing reimbursements. It was just one of those moments where I was like, that’s weird.
I think I knew it was coming in a sense, knowing that other schools had moved to online and things like that. Honestly, it’s really sad to think that’s how my Emerson experience ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper.
I think I’m really going to miss the experience of being at Emerson and that feeling of being involved and seeing a situation where I really did feel I have a lot of autonomy over my Emerson experience. I will miss a lot. I will miss being on campus. I will miss the Norman Lear statue. I will miss my office. I will miss SGA. I’ll miss the people.
I think there’s just this level of support that I found with Emerson that I wasn’t expecting, and Sharon Duffy plays a really huge role in that for me. When I first came into SGA, I was really nervous, and she looked at me and she said you can do anything with this, you can truly do anything. That really shaped my SGA experience more than anything. And then later, when my grandfather passed away, I went to her office, and she looked at me and she was like ‘I will drive you home to New Jersey right now.’ I think that that was just like a really poignant moment from my senior year.
Right before we left campus, I was in Walker for 411 and Chris Daly had her old graduation cap and there was an extra gown in a closet, and I put it on and it was not the right color at all, but it was just this very clear moment of, this is it. This is graduation, I’m done.
I came back from spring break on that Tuesday. I had been at a music festival in Florida without cell service so I was very tuned out from the world. I didn’t really know what was going on with coronavirus and how it was escalating. I got back to Emerson in the middle of the day and was kind of just recovering from spring break, and then I see this email pop up that said we were moving to online classes. I felt instantly numb and instantly in shock and disbelief. This couldn’t be happening.
I’m the co-president of Earth Emerson, and April is Earth Month so we had events planned almost every day. They were just all of these huge events that were going on that I had spent the entire first and beginning of second-semester planning. We had spent so much energy and time doing the not fun work to plan for these really fun rewarding events, and then right when everything was about to come to fruition we were told we couldn’t do it anymore. So that was really devastating for me.
Senior year was probably the most creatively fulfilling time in my college career. I finished a documentary that I had filmed and edited. It was actually my first film that got accepted into a film festival that unfortunately was postponed because of COVID-19. But I think my favorite times at Emerson are in the spring. April and the beginning of May in Boston are just so beautiful and we get to be with friends and have our projects finished, so I’m definitely missing that a lot.
I was devastated when I found out about graduation. I’m the oldest sibling in my family and the first one in my family to go through college and I was really looking forward to having that moment with my classmates and my family. It’s really just devastating that we’re not going to get that closure.
It’s been hard being at home. I feel trapped. I worked so freaking hard to fly the nest and get away and make something of myself. And I did it. I got to go to the school of my dreams and make a mark on campus by being an RA and an org leader. I did all of this work and now I’m right back where I started.
But I’ve really been trying to take advantage of the fact that this is the first time ever, where I’m being told to just stay home and take care of myself and treat myself better than I probably would have if I was still in school.
Photo: Holden Bender-Bernstein/Courtesy
My first thought was, “Okay, how am I going to get home?” First of all, I felt overwhelming gratitude because I have a home to go to and that’s not the case for all my friends and other folks at Emerson. So I just knew when I got that email that I was stupid lucky.
I also take voice lessons, in addition to teaching them, and I have so much trouble with the idea of digital voice lessons. For some people, it’s such a piece of cake. But for me, sitting at a piano and plucking up the notes and having it be in sync with the other person is really crucial, especially because some people that I teach are at a level of teaching them how to find a note, not just singing technique, and you can’t do that unless the audio is really perfect. So I had to tell my voice students that we were done.
Until a few weeks ago, I had a dog who I flew with everywhere and is trained in panic response. He would help me when I was freaking out on planes, and would calm me down by doing pressure points on my chest. He ran away from my parents house during spring break, so I didn’t have my primary coping mechanism for dealing with the stress and anxieties of the airport and the airplane. I’m also trans so TSA is very, very scary because they push a button before you enter the scanner that says male or female, and if what you’re presenting does not match that, the alarm goes off and it’s entirely based on how you look.
I usually get stopped at the airport and have to do a separate pat-down with TSA, which, being touched by another person during this, was already not great in concept. So I was really nervous about that part before I even got on the plane. Luckily, it was a total non-issue trip by chance. It’s really hit or miss.
On the Emerson tours, they show you the Majestic Theatre, and I can guarantee you that 90 percent of performance majors are like, “I’m gonna perform on that stage if it kills me.” The show was Spring Awakening and I was playing Hanschen. It’s a show that I’ve really wanted to do since I was in middle school and the cast was just superb. My character is one of two queer characters in the show, and for me, that was very exciting. As a trans person, getting cast as a cisgender role is not a privilege you get a lot, so getting cast as a conventionally attractive cis male character was the most validating shit ever.
So when it was all up in the air and rumors were spreading it was like, “God damn, like, what are we going to do?” For a lot of the seniors that was the hardest part. They felt like they finally got to do what they wanted to do since freshman year, and now they don’t get to.
Photo: Alison (Yueming) Qu/Courtesy
Alison (Yueming) Qu
It was actually a very dramatic moment, pun intended, because the moment that I got an email, I was in a rehearsal room. That show was supposed to go on three weekends after spring break. We had a little bit more than a week until performance, and I was in the room leading rehearsal with three of my actors.
I know the premise of canceling shows are for people’s health and for the community’s health, but I am still sad about the shows that I was producing. The one for Emerson Stage is called New Fest. Except for that, Chuang Stage, the Chinese theater group I was in, had a very large production, which we only do once a year. It was called The Ugly Town, and was supposed to go on the weekend of April 18th. We were all very excited about the show this year because we had an exciting cast, a very exciting group of designers, and we spent a lot of money. It’s definitely disappointing but also at the same time, I know in the future, I will eventually get to work on other shows. But for the people who are involved in this, that’s maybe the last time they got to do this. So, I felt really sad and sorry about the missing part of their experience.
I was really mad about a lot of the news in the U.S. It seemed to me the numbers were very cold, and people were unable to sympathize with the pain that China was going through. I remember, in February, we had this event on campus called Understanding Coronavirus. One of the panelists said it’s nothing to worry about, coronavirus is just flu, it’s not that serious. I was so angry because it’s not just the flu. Nobody back then believed me; they thought I was brainwashed.
I live in the South End; the apartment building was primarily white, and my neighbors find my presence disturbing, and that’s something that’s really heavy on me. When I go get groceries, and I wear a mask, I can tell people’s eyes are literally saying ‘are you sick?’ I feel like for the past four months I’m constantly fighting people about information regarding the coronavirus and the correct use of masks. I’m a very nice person in general, I’m quiet. But these four months, I’ve been so loud.
I didn’t feel any sadness regarding graduation until yesterday. Some of my friends from Boston University walked around their campus in graduation gowns and took pictures with the buildings. Since this pandemic happened, I’ve been thinking more practically in terms of my artist community, what’s going to happen to my internships, what’s going to happen next year, and are people around me safe—all those questions. And yet, I haven’t thought so much about the fact that I’m graduating and maybe wrapping up that period of my life with some sort of picture, or a remark, or a celebration, or thank you, or a moment to celebrate. Waking up this morning, I can’t emotionally move on from college until I know it’s ending.
I will never forget the activity that we did in my advanced level directing class. Our professor asked us to create a structure using folding chairs. The challenge is you have to put your chair on top of another chair to make the structure seem more powerful and to make your chair seem the most powerful in this piece of art. We had so much fun and got so serious with them. I remember I put my chair on top of a moving door, which was like seven feet above the floor. For a moment, I was like, this is something that could only happen at Emerson. I love this acting school so much.
Right now I am in California, living with my younger brother who goes to school here. Both my parents are at home in China. I constantly ask myself why I am stuck here. If I go back I would be stuck in quarantine for two weeks, and I can’t do that. I would go crazy. The second thing is really personal for me. I know that every time I go back home, it would be really difficult for me to come back. Both emotionally and work-wise. If I go back, I might not be able to come back because I might not find a reason to. My parents want me to go back, and they will find things for me to do. I am planning play reads on Zoom with my friends, and I can’t do that in China. I don’t know what’s going to
Photo: Maryam Fassihi/Courtesy
Visual and Media Arts
What Emerson has given me is the people, and that’s what I love most about it. ELA was by far my favorite semester, it’s like one of the reasons that I chose that school—because it had this program and I knew I didn’t want to go to school all the way out in Los Angeles for four years.
I love LA. I felt so fulfilled there in my internship and in my classes. It’s sunny every day and I was so happy, so getting it cut short was truly awful. I keep thinking there’s nothing I can do about this and everyone is in the same position, so I’m going to move on. I thought I would be thrown into adulthood as soon as I graduated, but now I’ve been put on pause and it’s been really frustrating, but also maybe now I don’t feel rushed. There’s a lot of pros and cons. I know when someone looks at my resume and is like ‘Whoa, there’s a big chunk of time you’re not really doing something after graduation,’ they’re going to be like, ‘a pandemic happened’ because everybody knows the pandemic happened.
I loved Emerson and I will miss it immensely. It’s crazy to me that I won’t be going back there in the fall, and I think a big reason why that’s not computing with me is because it was cut so randomly short. There was no closure. But we’ll have a graduation eventually, I really do believe that. I’ll be excited for that day, and I think maybe when the day comes, it will feel real that I’m done with school.
I know they separate us and announce all the honors students first—which is so too much and makes me feel so elite—but I’m also excited for that proud moment and to hear my friends cheer and to cheer for my friends.
Classes had already stopped, but before people had been told that they had to leave campus, I was working on Good Morning Emerson, and we were like, “We’re going to take a picture today, just in case this is the last episode.” I think either that afternoon or the next day, they said everybody had to go home, so it turned out it was the last episode. That was when it really hit me that this could be bad.
I was the stage manager for the EVVYs. I had the same position last year, and I’m feeling grateful for that, because I at least got to do it. There are some people who have been trying to get their dream role on the EVVYs for years, and then, finally, this is the year that they get it, and it’s taken away.
As long as the show still happens, I am happy to support all these teams that have been working so hard. It’s just sad that my position goes from being extremely essential to, ‘We actually don’t need you at all.’ It kind of sucks because you put almost the entire year into some of these productions, and then, all of a sudden, it isn’t happening in the same way.
I was taking this semester and trying to use it to apply my skills in other genres of entertainment. The past four years, I’ve spent most of my time working on developing my theatrical career in terms of stage management, so this was the semester that I was branching out and trying new things. So I’m feeling grateful I did get to work on so many TV shows and the film I was doing with EIV.
There’s so many things beyond the EVVYs that I was hoping to work on, wanted to work on, or did work on, and it’s so weird to suddenly be going from all-day-long meeting for this, meeting for this, be here at this time, and now it’s just, what am I going to have for dinner?
I have an apartment in Boston, and I have chosen to stay here, mostly because I was nervous that I was going to accidentally give the virus to my family. Even though it would be great to be with them right now, it was too nerve-wracking.
If you had told me four years ago that I wasn’t going to have the option of going to the commencement ceremony, I would be so confused. I would not have believed you if you had said the second half of my senior year, I’m just going to be sitting in my room on Zoom and not get to work on all these things that I’ve put all of my energy into. It’s just so strange.
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