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A student’s perspective

We’re all Hokies—and we’re all in this together

It was a few weeks into this semester when one of my roommates asked if I was worried about COVID-19.

At this point, we only knew of it as the “coronavirus.” She had just heard someone had tested positive on a cruise ship and she thought the virus could be anywhere. I told her I wasn’t. The case seemed so far away, and even if it wasn’t, I was not worried. I didn’t think of all the potential effects it could have.

Not even three months later, everything is different.

Spring break started and everything still felt normal. I knew things were bad in different parts of the world. My parents, who live in Italy, were already pretty much on lockdown and could only leave their house to get groceries or medical attention. Yet somehow, it still felt so far away. As spring break progressed, so did the measures being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 around the world. Halfway through spring break, we learned that it would be extended and the rest of this semester would be online.

Over the next few days, reality started to sink in. My friends would not be returning to Blacksburg, I would no longer be able to have lunches with my lunch buddy at Harding Avenue Elementary who I’ve been able to eat lunch with almost every week for the past two years thanks to the Lunch Buddy Volunteer Program, and I realized that I would not be able to return to Tanzania this summer with Service Without Borders (SWB) to visit my friends who have become like family over the past few years.

I started to notice the ways that this would affect me personally—and that it was so much bigger than just me. I was saddened for the whole world. For those who would not be able to survive the virus, for those who were losing their jobs, and for those who were isolated from their friends and families.

I was, and remain, incredibly sad for many of my fellow Hokies. For some, they will not walk across the stage in May to receive their hard-earned diploma. Some had to leave their safe haven in Blacksburg to return to homes that no longer feel like home. And many feel as though the last few months of this incredible experience was stolen from them. Sure, some have it harder, and it can always be worse, but the feelings of everyone grieving and dealing all around the world are valid and warranted.

A few weeks ago, I texted my parents and asked if there was any good news in Italy. I needed to know that things will get better. With so much unknown right now, it’s hard to remain positive. When will I see my friends again? Things had just started closing in Blacksburg and I was already hoping they would re-open soon. For goodness’ sake, will there be another toilet paper shortage at Kroger?

But there is good news.

Among all the negative, they had some good news for me. Numbers of those infected were going down in Italy and new cases were decreasing, but slowly. Social distancing seemed to be helping, despite the difficulty it causes. Air quality around the world seems better. People are looking out for each other. My dad called it “physical distancing, social media closening.”

This period is not an easy one. We’re having to navigate doing college completely online—so close to our beds. This might be the hardest part. We have to be innovative in order to exercise and socialize (virtually) with our friends, and we don’t know when it will be safe to hug a stranger again, but we’re all in this together. Truly. And there is something very comforting in that.

I’m still in (a very empty) Blacksburg and you may be reading this wondering how you’ll survive several more weeks stuck inside with your family in various places around the world, but we’re all doing this. We’re all struggling, we’re all learning, and we’re all growing—whether it feels like it or not.

I can imagine a world where we give in to the hardship, where we lose hope, but I can also imagine an even better world where we give ourselves a break and take this time to make ourselves better, to learn how to paint, to see how many push-ups we can do in a row at the end of this, or even read more.

We’re all Hokies—and we’re all in this together.