LocalStillman News

Reflections on the Year of COVID-19

Nathaniel Valyo
Stillman News Editor

At the end of the Fall 2020 semester, I wrote an article on how historic the times we live in truly are, and I made the argument that we will not see the gravity of it until years from now. Simply put, this school year was weird. Campus had stickers everywhere telling you where you were allowed to sit, stand, and walk. The cafeteria, once a bustling, noisy place to gather with friends became a sea of plexiglass unbelievably hard to hear in. And of course, on a given day, a “full campus” was about half of what it used to be, with a majority of students taking classes online. None of it was desirable, especially for the Class of 2021, who after two and a half years of life at Seton Hall longed for a senior year like the others.

Zach Cooney, middle right, at one of this weekend’s commencement ceremonies (photo courtesy of shu.edu)

“Of the difficulties faced in my senior year of college, the acceptance of change stands out as the most challenging,” said Connor Paradis, a senior in the Stillman School of Business from Lebanon, Maine. “In a typical senior year, students get to squeeze as much as they can out of classes, friends, and mentors as they come to realize that college does not last forever. This year, most classes were online, many friends were already missing from campus, and mentors could only be met through a computer screen instead of over coffee or lunch.”

As a senior, I had the opportunity to befriend and mentor some freshmen at Seton Hall this year. One common thread among this year’s freshmen I have noticed is that every time an upperclassman speaks about what Seton Hall used to be like, the eyes of the freshmen light up. They are listening to aspects of campus they’ve never imagined before. The Classes of 2021 and 2024 are a fascinating example of just how weird this year has been: the senior class looks at the vastly changed campus and longs for how things used to be, whereas the freshmen class has only ever seen campus like this.

As mentioned earlier, none of this was desirable. Students didn’t want campus looking the way it did or classes to operate the way they did, and neither did the administration. We all miss the way things used to be. But, despite all obstacles, the administration delivered a school year. That in and of itself is something to celebrate.

From a student’s perspective, we will be fully grateful for the 2020-2021 academic year in time. However, this year in particular, succeeding in studies and landing coveted internships and jobs was more enjoyable than ever. Paradis expressed this sentiment as well: “without a doubt the greatest joy I have experienced this year, and perhaps the greatest joy I have yet to experience in my life, is seeing my friends achieve the goals they told me about four years ago,” he said.

“Over the course of this challenging year, those same friends secured jobs at prestigious companies, passed exams to obtain industry licenses, earned acceptance into graduate programs, and in various other capacities had their dreams come to fruition.” Paradis himself has obtained a job at investment banking firm QueensGiant post-graduation.

The Class of 2020, forever linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, finally received the closure they deserved this weekend, when many of the graduates reconvened at the Prudential Center in Newark over the course of three different commencement ceremonies. I had the good fortune of meeting up with a number of my friends from the Class of 2020 this weekend, and I could not help but be grateful for their well-deserved recognition.

“I was uncertain about coming [to graduation],” said Ben Jaros, a graduate of the Class of 2020 from Boulder, Colorado. “I wondered how many of my classmates would show up. The moment I set foot back on campus for the first time since mid-March 2020, I held back tears. In the ceremony when President Nyre said the words ‘welcome home,’ I knew that my abrupt departure left too many goodbyes unsaid and that in fact I truly was home.” Jaros began studying for a Ph.D. in economics at Clemson University in the fall of 2020.

“All I can say is a thank you to everyone who made this possible,” he said.

Other students echoed Jaros’ sentiments. “Closure is something that is very important to me,” said Zach Cooney, another graduate of the Class of 2020 from Buffalo, New York. “Now I finally feel like I got it.” Cooney is preparing to enter law school in the fall, with a goal of working in international law.

Reflecting on the events of this weekend and the events of the entire 2020-2021 academic year have led me to an undeniable conclusion: the graduates of this year and last are special, and we are more than prepared to face other crises in our careers and lives. Many thanks to the administration for doing their very best to promote environments of learning, growing, and success. To echo words from President Nyre, these times are challenging, but we managed to make them our own.


Contact Nathaniel at nathaniel.valyo@student.shu.edu

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