Rachel Lautigar – University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Many people are often suspicious of Friday the 13. I was never one of those people, but perhaps a level of suspicion could have helped me prepare for Friday, March 13—the day my home, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, announced its closure and transition to remote learning as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19.

Initially, I held onto unrealistic hopes: that we would return to the classroom, that I would get to hug my beloved professors goodbye, that I would attend and speak at my last organizational banquets, and that commencement would be unaffected. One by one, these goals became less and less realistic, and for days I struggled to find the motivation to leave my room and put on a smiling face for my Lafayette family. I felt robbed of the recognition I had spent three-and-a-half years waiting for; I felt robbed of my moment in the sun. While it would have been easy to wallow in my own self-pity for the remainder of the semester, the following Monday evening, my entire attitude changed. I resolved that I would take the initiative myself to make sure that the graduating seniors this spring got their deserved recognition, and that I would use the favor I had earned with my university administration to be an advocate for my cohort.

The next day, independently, my administration tasked me with exactly that: representing the class of spring 2020 in discussions about commencement. This was a confirmation of the resolve I had found the night before, but it also clued me in to a greater realization: when I thought I was being robbed of my last ‘moment in the sun,’ I was instead presented an opportunity to lead that no other predecessor of mine had been given. I humbled myself, and realized this was my purpose.

The next week, I opened myself up to my student government association members. I asked what they needed; I asked what questions they had. I thought I was ready to take on the concerns and emotions of everyone else, but it was still taxing, and I had to take things day by day. This became easier when I realized how this situation had changed university administration. I saw answers change within 48 hours. I saw exclusive segments of students considered as carefully as any majority would be. I saw more hands on deck, more opened ears to students’ voices, and more barriers lifted in three weeks than I would have ever dreamed possible in three years. I had more confidence than ever when I said that the administration was listening to everything, and working as quickly as possible to address every problem as soon as they could. This type of action is incredible, and I urge university faculty and staff to continue the same level of advocacy, grace, and understanding long after we return to “normal.”

Thankfully, my classes have transitioned easily, and my professors have been patient and kind. In fact, one of my professors assigned a writing exercise to let us express what we were dealing with as a result of COVID-19. This was what I wrote:

I feel deprived of my social collaborations, my discussions, my moments of in-person validation.

I feel blessed that this happened in an age with technology that provides us with alternatives when meeting face to face is no longer possible.

I feel deprived of my schedule, my structure, and my busyness.

I feel blessed with flexibility, room to change and adjust, and more moments to relax and just “be.”

I feel deprived of my moments in the sun: my awards ceremonies, my public recognition, my walk across the stage.

I feel blessed with a family that will celebrate me no matter what, and with a community of people around me that will always remember how this class was impacted.

I feel lonely.

I feel blessed with someone who cares about me, who’s going through this with me.

I feel deprived of comfort. I’m not with my family, and I don’t know when I’ll get to see them.

I feel blessed that I do have people here who love me, and that they’re willing to take me in.

I feel deprived of all the events and experiences I’ve been looking forward to commemorating.

I feel blessed in my faith that we’ll have them again one day, and never take them for granted.

Each of these sentiments represent the daily back-and-forth that I face, along with thousands of other students in similar situations. Yet, as I told my student government representatives, every challenge is an opportunity to truly advocate, to truly serve, and to truly make a difference. For everything I feel that I’ve lost because of the outbreak of COVID-19, I hope to give back to someone else someday—while still taking it all one moment, one day at a time.