Emerson students reflect on the moment they knew life would change


Jakob Menendez

First year students left to right: Carrie Aubin, Chloe Shaar, Eva Charbonnnier, and Isabella Espejo, calling their parents about the college’s decision to shut the Boston campus down.

By Charlie McKenna

Six Emerson students, now a year into a first-in-a-century pandemic, recalled the moments when they realized life was not going to return to “normal” anytime soon. 

For some, that moment came quickly—when President M. Lee Pelton moved classes online on March 10, 2020 and then told students to leave their residence halls just three days later, for example. For others, it took months of living at home to comprehend their new reality. 

Sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major Anna Phillips said the distorted reality of the pandemic set in for her when she received an email from her volleyball coach in mid-July informing her the team’s pre-season would be canceled. 

“[When I found out we weren’t having a season I was like] ‘well this is going to be very, very weird,’ because I’m already a homebody when I stay at home, but not being able to play volleyball kind of skewed my plans,” she said. 

Phillips said when she received Pelton’s community-wide email last March, she assumed the pandemic would be short-lived.

“I was upset that we had to leave, obviously, but I was like, ‘Okay, I’m sure over the summer, things will die down, we’ll flatten the curve enough that we can go back and everything will be fine,’” she said. “When that didn’t happen I was like, ‘What? what do you mean?’”

Sophomore Christopher Dang, a fellow athlete, said his life was thrown off-kilter when he learned the men’s soccer team’s fall season was canceled. The team’s coach broke the news to the team in a July meeting, which he said helped soften the blow of the disappointing announcement. 

Sophomore visual and media arts major Giovanna Maralishvilli said the realization struck her when she returned to the Boston campus from spring break and learned of Harvard University’s decision to shut down. That news, coupled with her mother’s insistence that she bring hand sanitizer wherever she went while home, served as the warning of abnormality hiding around the corner. 

“I remember all my friends and I were like, ‘Oh shit I think we’re getting sent home—something’s gonna go down,’” she said. “Then, sure enough, I was watching something in one of my friend’s rooms, and we got a message in our group chat saying Emerson’s announcing that they’re going to let people have the option to go home now, and we’re like ‘Holy shit.’”

Maralishvilli said that moment, compounded with the cancelation of many activities—like a marching band parade for alumni at her high school—prompted her to realize the gravity of the transformation. 

Ian McClure, a sophomore VMA student, said the country’s increasing case and death totals throughout the summer months made him confront the long-lasting nature of the pandemic. 

“After two, three months in when the cases started coming up, increasing throughout the months … they kept on rising,” McClure said. ”There was no sign of opening back the borders or getting in touch with normal. It didn’t seem like things were gonna go back to normal anytime soon.”

Students who attended Kasteel Well in the spring got an indication of the new reality lurking around the corner just days before students on the Boston campus were faced with the rapidly changing world. Anna Bohman, a junior marketing communications major, said getting sent home from the Boston campus just days after being sent home from the castle is what made her realize “normal” life was rapidly fading away. 

“When we got sent home from the castle I really didn’t think … COVID would last this long,” she said. “When I was sent home home and I saw Harvard and every single school in the country and around the world [sent kids home] that’s when I was like, ‘Oh man, this is serious.’” 

That moment came even faster for junior Rodin Batcheller, a journalism major. He said as the threat of the coronavirus crept ever closer in late February, the prospect of being sent back home to Boston grew very real. When the announcement finally came that students would be sent back to the U.S., he was unsurprised. 

“It wasn’t a surprise, I was half expecting it,” he said. “The first thing that popped into my head was, ‘Well, I’m kind of upset that I don’t get to stay. But if this thing is as bad as what I read about, then I’m glad the school is getting ahead of the ball and making sure that students are safe.’”