With COVID-19, I had no idea what this fall semester would look like. There was so much uncertainty with a pandemic underway, and this was to be my first year no less. Still, I was thrilled at the opportunity to be on campus, which I saw as the beginning of my life independent of my parents. Looking back now, I really had a great time on campus although it was not one without unexpected plot twists.
Initially, the best part of being on campus was the community. It was an invaluable experience being able to build further on the bonds that I established on NOLS with the rest of my cohort. Of course, when I got to see everyone again, our very first conversations almost always involved memories from NOLS. Fortunately, even with a global pandemic happening, we were able to create new memories on campus and new things to talk about. For instance, with the opening of the university’s recreation center, I was able to make a few gym buddies for early morning sessions at 7 am sharp. I also was able to make a few soccer buddies; I remember playing soccer (socially distanced) with Kaitlyn, Galen, and Karsyn on one of the university’s soccer fields before we were kicked off for being on a restricted field, to which we were all hilariously oblivious.
One thing that I cannot forget is how persistently I was encouraged by Galen to buy a longboard. I was adamant about not spending 80 bucks on a piece of wood, but as the longboard infection spread to others in our cohort, I became more persuaded. So, I took the plunge, bought the longboard, and became part of the Levine class of 2024’s unofficial skating crew. And to be quite honest, I enjoyed longboarding more than I ever could have imagined, even if I once had a hideous wipeout.
Those were the better days of my semester, however, as I look back at the time that I had to spend in isolation. The one fear that was always in the back of my mind, and the reason why my family was nervous about me going on campus, was COVID-19. And, unfortunately, I contracted COVID-19 just two weeks into my semester on campus. I remember the stress and the angst when I first received my results, not because I was necessarily concerned for my health, but because I was concerned for those I had been in close contact with, which amounted to nine of the scholars in my cohort when I did the math. I also found it difficult to tell my mom that I was positive for COVID-19, when that was the very same thing that she had feared. Thankfully, however, the situation resolved in a most fortunate way, as I recovered from the illness just fine and none of my cohort tested positive for the virus. The 10 days in isolation were somewhat lonely and testing of my resilience, but all the free time did wonders for my productivity and I had the support and concern of my cohort to keep me through.
Apart from a run-in with the coronavirus, my semester was a great one. The Levine program provided for a semester of events, thought, and reflection through such things as Dr. Z’s new anti-racism course, the freshman common reading event, and of course, the discursive and engaging Levine Freshman Fall Seminar, where we could all gather as one family in the seminar room and feel the sense of community that defines the program.
In the anti-racism course, we discussed deeply institutional racism, its markers, its effects, and possible solutions or steps in a direction of more equity and recognition for Black Americans and other minority groups. The class was a wonderful opportunity for us students to take an active role in the preparation and delivery of class materials each week, demonstrating the fact that even us young people can think critically on these issues and contribute knowledge, experiences, and perspective. At the freshman common reading event, I was given the wonderful opportunity of introducing an accomplished writer, Dashka Slater. It was a powerful experience presenting someone of such merit to a group of my peers, and the subsequent small group discussions that we had with the author connected us more deeply with her life as a writer and with her acclaimed book “The 57 Bus.” The freshman fall seminar also provided a valuable experience with thought-provoking readings and interesting discussions. One of the most salient memories for me in the freshman seminar was an amusing discussion and debate over the most important lessons from Leonardo da Vinci’s character and example.
All these were great experiences, however, if there was anything that I would cite as the best part of the fall semester, it would be the time of reflection that it provided for me. While I did get outside and hang out with my fellow Levine’s, I most often found myself in my room listening to lo-fi beats, looking out the window, and thinking about life and my many blessings. Being on campus certainly felt like a blessing when I considered that other students were forced to do the fall semester all online. It was also a blessing that I had recovered from COVID-19 and that my symptoms were never more than mild fatigue. Therefore, I began each day with a spirit of gratitude, and when it finally was time for me to leave UNC Charlotte’s beautiful campus for Thanksgiving, I did so with a bittersweet heart, bitter from having the semester’s in-person component end so quickly but sweet from having had an awesome start to my college journey with great friends, great opportunities, and great memories.