When I first enrolled at Colorado Mesa University, I hoped my time in college would help me learn critical thinking skills, find and clarify my purpose, and meet my closest friends. For the past three years, college has lived up to these expectations, helping me grow as a person and as a leader. I have had the opportunity serve as a student body vice president, and as a captain and an athlete on the track and field team. As this year began, I anticipated more of the same. I expected to pass all my classes, compete as a student-athlete, and to continue to serve as a leader and role model for the students around me.
But as the spring semester progressed, a distant cloud began to cast a shadow on those hopes: a couple of weeks before spring break started, I first heard some of my friends talking about the coronavirus. At first, I, along with many of my peers, did not think much of it. We joked about how the virus sounded as though it was named after a beer and we carried on as if nothing was happening.
Of course, we had been afforded a false sense of security, and—day by day—that armor and ignorance began to fall away. One day, while I was working in my Student Life office, a student visited me with concerns about COVID-19. They asked if I knew how the school “was going to handle this virus.” I had no knowledge or understanding of what this virus really was or how the university was planning to approach it. I was confident, however, that if it were to become an issue, the university would take accurate and proper measures to protect students and their well-being. Later that day I went to my human resource management class, and our professor sat down with us for a 15-minute discussion. “Who here,” the professor asked, “has heard of COVID-19?”
Our professor told us the school was considering putting all classes online, and expressed concern about the impact the move would have. “It is not fair to have a college course, that is intended to be in person, put online,” they said. “Although, we need to support whatever decision that our university makes. Student safety comes first.”
The seriousness of the situation was finally dawning on me. After class, I returned to my office in Student Life. The entire time I was thinking, how is this going to affect students? Where will students go? What about international students? How will this impact our education?
All these questions were running through my head and I did not know how to answer them. The next week, students left for spring break. For a few days, it felt like everything was back to normal. Midway through spring break, we received an email from a university administrator announcing that the break would be extended until March 30th. Then, a few days later, the university announced that all classes would be online for the remainder of the semester. That same week, the NCAA decided to cancel all spring sports.
At first, my classmates and teammates were ecstatic to have all this free time. There was no real schedule to adhere to. Everything was on our time now, except Zoom classes. Students were regularly waking up at 10 a.m., and most of us enjoyed our foray into full-time online learning. But as days and weeks passed, we began to realize that our lives are dependent on relationships and human interaction. The lack of structure and connection began to exacerbate the learning challenges and mental health issues many students face. I know I find it difficult to be successful when working remotely and with such a limitation on help and resources.
In this time of adversity, I have found inspiration and encouragement in our school’s identity. The “Maverick” is more than our mascot; it’s a call to action. This is a great opportunity to be a true maverick, to boldly help others in need, while still taking care of yourself and working toward the important goals you have long set for yourself. It is now more important than ever before that we take our education in our own hands and excel no matter the circumstances. We must look after one another. We must come together, do our part, and help our community. We are the future of this nation. We are the doctors, nurses, engineers, journalists, politicians, and public servants of tomorrow. It is time to double down on our education. We will beat COVID-19 by bettering ourselves through education and through caring for our community.
Editor’s Note: Following the submission of this piece, a Colorado Mesa University student, Cody Lyster, became the youngest person in Colorado to die from the COVID-19. “Let us each take a moment today to reflect in our own way about how we can, as a campus community, work together with a common goal,” Tim Foster, CMU’s president, said in a statement. “Let’s renew our individual commitments to uniting against a common threat to life that we face together at this time.”