Being a college freshman: COVID-19 stole an ending and a beginning from me

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Claudia Hernandez

This year, graduations have shifted to online due to COVID-19 concerns.

Alyson Rodriguez, Contributor

A devastating pandemic was definitely not part of most people’s plans for this year. It definitely wasn’t part of mine as a graduating high school senior. Instead of hugging my friends in graduation photos, we had to social distance. Instead of being able to smile freely, ear-to-ear, we had to hide our smiles under masks.

When the pandemic first hit El Paso in March, schools across the city extended their spring break as the world monitored the virus. I must admit I was grateful for the extra time off, but that quickly changed when I learned this “extended” spring break would later become online school.

But it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be. Like before, I liked the additional time that replaced hours of stressing on what outfit to wear or riding the bus, but the extra time did not replace seeing my friends and teachers in person, or doing simple everyday activities like eating lunch with my best friends, hanging out after school in the parking lot or talking with my favorite teachers before class. Back then, none of us realized March 13 would be the last normal day we’d see in a while.

One of the most stressful parts of graduating during a pandemic was exactly that: graduating.

Originally, I was set to  to graduate May 25 at UTEP’s Don Haskins Center. I had been looking forward to that moment ever since I was a freshman. I couldn’t wait to walk across the stage and wave to the crowd full of family, friends and classmates, just like I had seen sisters and friends do before me.  Instead, after months of uncertainty, our graduation was pushed to June 20 at Bowie High School’s football field.

Graduation was nothing like how I had pictured it four years ago as a freshman. My classmates and I wore masks provided by the school and sat ten feet apart. We weren’t even allowed to hug each other or leave our seats in a ceremony that lasted an hour.  It was an experience  I will never forget.

When my first day as a freshman at UTEP came around, I was somewhat excited, even though all my classes were online. I was disappointed I wasn’t going to experience being in a UTEP classroom or getting to meet my fellow peers and professors in person. Other incoming freshman at UTEP agree  this is not how they thought their first year of college was going to be.

Rebecca Zarate, a forensic science major, said being online for her first college semester has had its ups and downs.

“I would say that for me the hardest part about attending school during a pandemic is honestly the online class meetings, mainly because I don’t have the most reliable internet connection,” Zarate said.  “Aside from that, it’s definitely been a good experience because all of my professors have been very understanding and caring this entire semester.”

Angel Segura, a biological sciences major, said online classes have taken a toll on his academic career. “I don’t have that connection with my professors and peers, and it makes it much more difficult to build on,” Segura said. “I feel like being a freshman and not having in-person classes, I don’t have the proper foundation for some of the content I am provided because everything feels much more rushed and not well explained.”

Personally, and despite my disappointment, online classes have made my transition from high school to college easier as I had gotten used to the format during my last months in high school. Most importantly, online classes during this time work stop the spread of COVID-19. I am thankful to be a student at a university working toward this common goal.

In the meantime, I will continue to hope  my freshman peers and I can experience what it’s like to be a proud UTEP miner in person.

Alyson Rodriguez may be reached at [email protected]; @alyson_rod1127 on Twitter.