There was a piercing kind of finality in the air as people shoved belongings into suitcases, loaded duffels into cars, and drove away. I was used to my endings having time to build up, to be processed. Time to pack accordingly and say goodbye to people I might not see again.
This time, I didn’t get any of that.
On Tuesday, March 10 — two weeks ago, today — I got an email from my school, Colorado College, giving students a week to pack up their stuff and get out in preparation for the coronavirus.
I canceled my spring break trip — one that had already been in question by my anxious parents — to Westchester, New York. I hated admitting defeat, but I called my family and told them that I would be coming home.
That day over half a million college students were affected by similar measures. In only 24 hours, many people were already on flights home.
The seniors, whose commencement ceremony was now under scrutiny, were especially distraught. CC has a tradition of seniors popping champagne bottles at the flagpole after their last college class, which typically falls in mid-May. Seniors bumped the ceremony up to that Tuesday, and began pouring champagne over each other in massive volumes.
In a group chat someone announced there would be a “Pandemic Party” that night on Yampa field. My friend Sam’s band, Tiny Tomboy, would be playing at the party. Word spread and at 10 p.m. many students gathered for a late night final jam. This was the last time we’d all be together in who knew how long — the last time we’d be free from parental control, collectively disembarking from a past happy coexistence in our homogenous college bubble.
Campus Safety shut down the party due to a noise complaint about ten minutes into the performance.
Right before leaving, my friends and I sat in the shell of my packed room, my colorful artwork taken down and put into boxes. I held hands with my best friend and we cried as my dad parked the car, and then my friend left, and then I did too.
Now I’m home in Denver with my family. The first few days of social distancing/quarantine were fine; I took a much needed break from school and work. Then after a week or so of sleeping until noon — there was nothing else to do — I started to become antsy.
I am an Environmental Studies major at CC and am involved with my school’s chapter of the Sunrise Movement, which is a coalition of young people advocating for climate legislation like the Green New Deal. The group publicly endorses politicians like Bernie Sanders and AOC, and are self-described young radicals, the best and brightest democratic socialists of America.
Sunrise sent out an inspiring email the day many college students were sent home. Before, Sunrise was planning the biggest youth climate strike in history to happen on Earth Day. The strike has since been canceled, but the movement is still growing a strong digital coalition through meetings and educational sessions with platforms like Zoom.
After my week of decompression and subsequent feelings of uselessness, an invitation to a Zoom meeting with my school’s Sunrise club awakened me. Now I had something to plan my day around.
Through my laptop, sitting in my bed with a jar of tea, I connected with my schoolmates who were now scattered across the country. I could see into each of their rooms at home, representative of our unique lives, and, best of all, everyone’s smiling, familiar faces. It reminded me of how much bigger the world is than my house, despite it not feeling that way right now. That there are so many people out there feeling almost the exact same things as me.
We Zoomed in solidarity, knowing we were all CC students uprooted from our home and strewn across the country, now forced to discuss important issues digitally and from far away. After the meeting, I was able to sign up for daily educational sessions through Sunrise. They are one hour a day, this Tuesday-Friday, and talk about the coronavirus and Sunrise’s updated strategy. I attended the first one today — in my cohort, there were 150 people from all over the country. There were other cohorts with similar amounts of people in them.
It was reassuring to see so many people in the same situation as me, sitting in their beds trying to do college and all of its related commitments through Zoom — feeling hopeless, lazy and anxious. Yet despite everything, we rallied, we found purpose again, in Sunrise’s words:
When this pandemic is over, we refuse to go back to the way things were. For far too long, people have been suffering under the same broken systems, lacking basic human rights and faced with a government that only cares about corporate profits.
That behavior is unacceptable. We have a chance here—brought forth by unimaginable tragedy—to compel the government to fix the cracks in the very foundation of this country, to protect the people who are the backbone of this nation, so that devastation like this never crumbles our society again.
Sunrise views this period of self-isolation as a boiling pot, one that is slowly building enough momentum to flood the mainstream with unifying and relevant cries for change when quarantine ends. It’s hard, but there is no better time than now.
Now I continue to quarantine with renewed purpose. I am grateful I found Sunrise and its Zoom meetings early on in this pandemic. I urge everyone to ask themselves: What could I be doing right now to make myself and my time feel worthwhile?
And then, by all means, go and do that thing.
Isabel Hicks is a student at Colorado College who lives in Denver.