Evan Billups ’20 figured she could spend her final semester enjoying the familiarity of Yale — filled with suite get-togethers, common room board games and friendly banter in the dining halls.
But the University’s instructions last week urging Yalies to return home and not come back to campus for the remainder of the semester disrupted that undergraduate life, particularly for graduating seniors like Billups, who were preparing to leave it behind for good. Yale’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak — a global pandemic that has already infected hundreds of thousands — has left many students in their last semester sad and frustrated as they try to make the best of their final days and finish their graduation requirements.
“It won’t mar the experiences I’ve already had over the past three-and-a-half years,” Billups told the News from her hometown in Oregon. “It definitely is going to deeply affect how I look back on senior year and especially senior spring which is supposed to be pretty much the best time that you have in college, and it’s really sad that that’s going to be how we remember it.”
University President Peter Salovey wrote in a community-wide email Saturday night that it is “too soon” to tell if Commencement Weekend would happen in “the traditional way.” The new virus, which saw its first reported cases in New Haven days ago, could bar students and their parents from attending the 319th ceremony on Old Campus in the spring.
What should have been a “warm, celebratory final semester,” Salovey wrote, is now filled with sadness over its loss — a disappointment he said he shares.
“I, with other Yale leaders, will be thinking of ways we can, once COVID-19 is behind us, bring you back to campus to celebrate,” he wrote. “But one way or another, we will come together in due time.”
Armando Herrería ’20 said that as a first-generation, low-income student, Commencement is “really important” and brings a sense of pride.
He said that the potential cancellation of Commencement saddens him and his friends.
“The ability to walk across a stage and be proud of an incredible accomplishment for yourself, your family and your community, is something that might not be able to happen this year,” he said.
“Senior Week,” a series of events meant to fill the time between the final day of classes and commencement weekend, is also likely to fall to the wayside. Typically, students dine at a senior picnic, mingle in New Haven’s restaurants for Bar Night and get set up at the Last Chance Dance.
“When will we get that last goodbye or hurrah or get to say bye to Yale?” Aadit Vyas ’20 wondered.
Along with these storied aspects of the Yale experience, Tyler Bleuel ’20 lamented the inability to practice the “smaller things” one last time as an undergraduate: “lounging in the spring sun on Cross Campus, meeting up with friends at Koffee [and running] to East Rock,” he wrote.
“I just keep circling back to people,” Vyas said, reminiscing over the nights he passed by playing board games and video games in his friends’ suites.
Some students, though they felt this loss, recognized the administration’s steps as necessary in responding to such a dangerous pandemic.
“Though it hurts, I am grateful that our administration is responding to this epidemic and prioritizing the well-being of the students,” Vincent Vaughns ’20 said.
In response to having to leave campus, the Senior Class Council is preparing a series of comical challenges that seniors who live close to each other can meet up to complete, according to SCC member Camila Vardar ’20. Vyas added that students have also considered holding a one-year reunion or participating in a postponed senior week.
But the change has also brought lingering uncertainty to key fixtures of a senior’s final semester. Senior Society meetings are, for many, up in the air — and the opportunity for one-last-time accomplishments has all but disappeared.
“It’s a devastating ending to be sure,” Bleuel told the News. “Post-spring break was going to be a time to cross off bucket-list items, tie up loose ends, appreciate the last bit of time with those around you and [end] on a high note. It seems likely that a lot of us will feel a lack of closure, on several ends.”
Vyas pointed out that the Class of 2020 has seen the University undergo radical transformations — ranging from the closure of Commons dining hall, the renaming of Calhoun College to Grace Hopper College and the addition of two more residential colleges. He noted that as a result, the Class of 2020 is used to changes which have also shaped the class, making it “tight-knit but also resilient.”
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Update, March 18: This article has been updated to specify how the News obtained information about students’ alternative plans for senior activities.