Sarah Turyahikayo started working as a tour guide at the University of Maryland two years ago to learn more about the school. It was a job she came to love, as she shared the nooks and crannies she had discovered throughout her years on the campus.
But as the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak brought seniors’ final days as students on campus to a screeching halt last month, that all changed. Leaving campus early meant many of those students couldn’t commemorate the last time they’d sit in a classroom or study at McKeldin Library with the proper reflective meditation. Some didn’t even get to say goodbye to friends.
On March 19, Turyahikayo and the rest of the student body heard the news that classes would be held online for the rest of the semester.
“I actually started crying,” the environmental science and policy major said. “My senior year is pretty much over.”
Now, seniors are scattered across the country and left to mourn the abrupt end to their university experience and countless unfulfilled celebrations, traditions and hopes.
“It’s just hard because no one could have predicted this coming,” said senior kinesiology major Bahar Lakeh. “So I think everyone is feeling a little lost.”
Lakeh is president of the Senior Council — a job she took on because she was excited to plan all sorts of events for her peers. She was looking forward to spring events such as the senior bar crawl, Senior Week, Grad Bash and a series of events the council was planning to provide “adulting” guidance to students.
Now, she said the council is trying to figure out how to move these activities to an online environment.
“We had so many things planned, so many aspirations, and it was really cut short,” she said.
For senior psychology major Mekelit Bellay, having the spring commencement ceremony canceled was particularly painful.
She’s a first-generation college student, and she wanted to have her family see her walk across the stage to receive her diploma, like they’ve been looking forward to doing for years.
“It’s something that really hurt my mom, my dad and my sister, who all really got me through college,” Bellay said.
Paula Molina Acosta, a senior women’s studies major, expressed anxiety over entering the job market as the global economy grows more unstable in response to the pandemic. She lamented the lost networking opportunities with professors and at her internship in the Maryland General Assembly, which she is now finishing remotely.
Furthermore, events for two student organizations she’s a part of — Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society and Friends of Ellen, a group for lesbian students — have been either canceled or indefinitely postponed.
“It’s our last semester and we’re not able to get anything done, and I can’t even enjoy being on campus because I had to go home,” she said. “And it was already very bittersweet to have our last semester, and this has just kind of thrown a wrench in everything.”
The pandemic also brought the work Blain Kebede does with the Black Student Union and two nonprofits to a standstill.
As Black Student Union’s second vice president and president of the Petey Greene Program — an organization that provides student tutors’ services to prisons and jails — Kebede worries about the legacy the groups will leave for students next year.
Many of the fundraisers, community service and social action work the groups had planned were just “ripped away,” said Kebede, a criminology and criminal justice and public policy major. Now, student organizations will have to rely heavily on social media and online platforms, such as Slack, to communicate. They still have to figure out their executive boards for next year, too.
“It’s just sad to see that work go down the drain,” Kebede said, “but I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that even though the world seems like it’s stopped right now, that it will start up again.”