Graduation cap

Penn State seniors have had nearly a year and a half of college amid the coronavirus pandemic — an experience largely different from what they expected when they committed as freshmen. Some seniors reported struggling overall but made the best of their situations.

Gabriella Fournier said she found positives within all the negatives thrown her way during the virtual year.

“Some of my professors actually got to know me more virtually in my smaller classes,” Fournier (senior-public relations) said. “There's more availability to meet with them since they can take a Zoom call from anywhere, and it’s easier to reach out.”

However, Fournier said she struggled with motivation to “finish strong” during her senior year, similar to other students.

“This has made me less motivated since my house is the place where I have to do everything like sleeping, eating, school work and work,” Fournier said. “I’m someone who likes to get up and get ready early to start my day on campus, so this has been harder for me.”

Fournier said she found Penn State’s virtual and in-person policies “unclear,” which she said made the year harder.

“Everyone was so worried because of how Penn State’s reaction was delayed with the pandemic response,” Fournier said. “There were so many unknowns, but they know now how to be prepared for something like this.”

Fournier said it was difficult to engage with organizations in person because of the restrictions from the university.

“I’ve always been someone to respect the rules and acknowledge people's feelings, and I've tried to stay so positive during this,” Fournier said.

Fournier said she was disappointed with how the university handled the final spring football practice, initially opening it to only freshmen.

Carter O’Sullivan said he felt the university could have responded better to make his last year “memorable in a different way.”

“Penn State’s response to everything this year was underwhelming,” O’Sullivan (senior-supply chain management) said. “State College was one of the worst hot spots nationally, and Penn State wasn’t transparent with what was going on.”

According to university spokesperson Wyatt DuBois, the university has worked to keep the Penn State community updated through online resources such as the “Virus Info” website, the COVID-19 dashboard and virtual town halls.

“The university has provided proactive updates to educate our entire community and is working closely with critical partners,” DuBois said in a statement via email.

O’Sullivan said he felt bad for freshmen because he said he would have been even more “confused” coming to Penn State amid the pandemic.

“I felt bad for the freshman as a senior because of the delusions of grandeur the university promoted,” O’Sullivan said. “Penn State made them look like villains at their first taste of freedom when [the university] could’ve just made different decisions originally, [like keeping freshmen home].”

MORE CAMPUS COVERAGE

O’Sullivan said he thought there was a bigger “barrier” between him and his professors as a senior but had smaller class sizes to overcome it.

“I’m lucky because my classes were already more niche in size, and I have things figured out by now being a senior,” he said. “But, there was a separation between students from their professors and other classmates in the virtual setting overall.”

Additionally, he said he was disappointed with the Virtual Involvement Fair and struggled to engage with his THON organization while enduring the loss of other opportunities.

“Virtual involvement was a joke,” O’Sullivan said. “Penn State is good with academics, but there are so many other opportunities that people lost out on because it wasn't prioritized despite being one of the biggest parts of student experiences.”

Brian Ouzomgi has stayed home since the start of the pandemic, but he thought the pros of virtual learning outweighed the cons.

“Virtual learning didn't affect me too much, because I was growing sick of school, and I was able to save money by living at home,” Ouzomgi (senior-computer science) said. “It was very nice to spend extra time with my family before moving out, which is time that wouldn’t have been possible if classes were in person.”

Ouzomgi said he felt his education quality didn’t decrease, but his attention span did.

“In a normal semester, I’m very attentive, but it was very difficult to keep a stronger attention span,” Ouzomgi said. “I didn’t even take notes this semester, but that was also because some classes didn’t require it as much.”

However, Ouzomgi said he was able to visit Penn State’s campus for a weekend to get a better sense of closure for senior year.

However, Victoria Kipiller said she felt it was harder to find closure after the virtual year. She said she has some regrets, but they were out of her control.

“It's harder finding closure for seniors in this situation,” Kipiller (senior-business management) said. “Only recently, I felt like we were actually finishing school, but it’s a shame that we can’t see people that we were in clubs with for a last goodbye.”

Kipiller said her classes focused on group work, which was harder with the online format, and she didn’t know how to balance time for herself.

“Being online took a lot more time to do the work instead of being in person,” Kipiller said. “I wish professors would have taken that into consideration with group projects and group papers, because everyone has different schedules and access with the internet.”

However, she said she wanted to acknowledge how the senior class is graduating despite their circumstances.

“It felt like a lot more work for the same degree, but everyone should be proud of their accomplishments,” Kipiller said. “We should take the time to actually celebrate this because this is important to mark this feat and make sure our graduation isn’t overlooked.”

MORE CAMPUS COVERAGE

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.