The pandemic stole the life I curated throughout college

While escaping from the realities of virtual classes, David Gonzalez, senior journalism major, becomes another version of himself while playing "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" for the Nintendo Switch. / photo by Maxwell Sierra

While escaping from the realities of virtual classes, David Gonzalez, senior journalism major, becomes another version of himself while playing “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” for the Nintendo Switch. / photo by Maxwell Sierra

by David Gonzalez
photography by Maxwell Sierra

When the COVID-19 pandemic made life hit pause, people were forced to continue as normal. People continued to work, and college students continued to attend lectures, whether masked and in-person or online. I, like millions of other college students, had to make the transition to online learning. Despite any challenges this presented, one thing remained constant – getting the grade was the only thing that mattered.

I am a senior journalism major, which means that I have had that taste of freedom that many associate with starting college during normal times. I had the opportunity to participate in everything a college freshman would have: move-in day, orientation week, and finally living away from home for the first time. I had the opportunity to find myself throughout the three-and-a-half years in college while advancing my career as a journalist and attending the usual college events. I had the opportunity to struggle through finals week, spending hours in the library cramming through “dead week” in preparation for finals week. I was finally able to leave the nest and pave my own path. The pandemic, however, shot me down, and I found myself back in the nest with my family living the same status quo I had most of my life.

The one thing I will not be having: the final year of college surrounded by my friends as we finish this chapter of our lives and prepare to walk at graduation. Rather, I am spending this final year back at home with my family, away from everything I have gotten used to. I no longer have a space to call my own. I no longer have a place to study in peace. Living in the dorms provided me with the ability to set my own schedule and take care of myself, something I had always neglected, but it was all gone after I moved out of my dorm. My schedule currently revolves around whatever the rest of my family wants in the moment.

While at home, I noticed that not only did my mental health deteriorate, but so did my grades. I went from being on the Dean’s List in the Fall of 2019 to barely scraping by. I was, however, expected to try to continue as normal. Zoom classes were clearly not a replacement for the brick-and-mortar classroom. I have had to miss classes multiple times because of circumstances that were outside of my control and leave in the middle of class because my home sounded like a cacophony of husky screams and family conversations.

Prior to the pandemic, I was offered the position of editor-in-chief of the University of La Verne’s weekly newspaper, the Campus Times, for the Spring 2020 semester and was asked to return for the Fall 2020 semester. Going in, I had an idea of what the job would look like based on conversations with previous editors, but being the first editor in the 100 years of publication to face a remote newsroom was something I did not anticipate. Over the years, I had gotten used to calling the newsroom in the Arts and Communications Building my home away from home. If I were not in my dorm or attending classes, I was in the newsroom. I walked past the illustrious wall of previous editors-in-chief of both the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine, who smiled down on me every single day. The wall of awards, the pile of story assignment sheets, and the whiteboards with the weekly story budget quickly became part of my college experience. For three semesters straight, all the editors gathered there on Thursdays, early morning to late night, chatting and eating Trader Joe’s Jo-Jos cookies (a Campus Times tradition) while we readied the newspaper for bed. The sense of camaraderie that came with putting together a new edition of the Campus Times is an irreplaceable moment of my college career.

That newsroom that I had gotten so used to being in was quickly replaced with a new virtual newsroom in the form of Zoom calls and Google Drive folders. Like the classroom, the virtual newsroom pales in comparison to the physical building. While the new group of editors and I are together virtually, there is a certain “je ne sais quoi” missing from the old Thursday production days.

Despite the things I will be missing as I finish my undergraduate studies, one thing good came into my life – “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” for the Nintendo Switch. During the early months of the stay-at-home orders, playing the game was a constant reminder that things are not normal. The game emphasized the importance of the mundane, and gave me the epiphany that the little things I took for granted were truly what made life fulfilling. Millions of people lost the little things in their lives that had a big impact on their productivity, but we as a society decided that we should continue as normal, when everyone knows that is not realistic. I realized it was OK to stop being productive and lose myself in something for a while. I knew I was not going to perform my best no matter how hard I tried to downplay the mental effects of the pandemic.

To an outsider, the pandemic may not have hit me as drastic as it did to others, but currently every single person is being affected by the coronavirus in more ways than one. The reality of the situation, however, is grim. People are losing their jobs, milestones and memories, and even their lives while first responders are working tirelessly to save as many people as they can. Life is not normal right now. If pushing pause on life causes productivity to go down but minimizes the crushing effects of the pandemic, then so be it. Everyone needs an escape from reality.