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‘What this time means’: Duke seniors reflect on moments of joy, lasting marks of pandemic ahead of graduation

<p>Student group leaders have been finding ways to allow everyone to participate safely in in-person events after Duke released new COVID-19 guidelines in late August.</p>

Student group leaders have been finding ways to allow everyone to participate safely in in-person events after Duke released new COVID-19 guidelines in late August.

With graduation just a few days away, seniors reflected on their time at Duke, shared their mixed feelings about post-college life and spoke about how COVID-19 created a defining gap in their college experience. 

“We were the last class to really have a full year on campus pre-COVID,” senior Elizabeth Loschiavo said. “It's weird to bookend Duke like this. The only years I've lived fully on campus are my first year and my last year.”

She reflected on the small moments of joy that shaped their last four years, including reading in the Duke Gardens, the Wellness Center’s knitting circle and Duke University Union’s trivia nights. 

“All through my sophomore year before [the pandemic], me and my friends regularly went to Thursday night trivia,” Loschiavo said. “I don't think we ever won, but we came close a couple times.”

But these moments also taught Loschiavo, a first-generation college student, to “live more and worry less.” 

“I’m always going to be worried about finances and student debt. At the end of the day, you have one life to live,” Loschiavo said. “The moments of joy are the ones that you truly remember.”

Senior Catherine McMillan described the Duke undergraduate experience as “paying a premium for the convenience of living, learning and existing in the same space as thousands of amazing people.” 

From learning 1950s style dancing as part of Duke’s Swing Dance Club to helping Durham natives with their financial, employment, educational and housing goals, McMillan found ways to both spend time recreationally and give back to the community.

“I think that we take some experiences for granted, like being able to run into a friend that you made last semester in class, or being able to meet up with someone for lunch in the spur of the moment in WU, that stuff will be a lot harder in the real world,” McMillan said. 

For senior Andrew Nguyen, closing the chapter on the last four years “doesn’t really feel real yet.” 

“I know that the deadline is coming, but I feel like there's still so much left to do,” Nguyen said. “Maybe part of it is that I spent nearly a half of this time at home.”

After he returned to campus, Nguyen took advantage of unique opportunities to watch Duke men’s basketball face off against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Cameron Indoor Stadium and spend relaxing days in the Duke Gardens with friends. Still, he wishes he had more time at Duke. 

“I'll really miss these four years,” Nguyen said. “I feel like I tried to make the most of it but there’s a lot that I wish I did more. Not just activities and stuff, but meeting more people.”

But for Loschiavo, graduating is a marker of moving on “to a more stable part of life.” 

“I think we all kind of feel like COVID has done so much damage to our college career that we're just ready to close this chapter,” Loschiavo said. 

Senior Margaret Gaw took a middle-ground approach, describing graduating as both a “sentimentality of leaving the place” and “excitement for the future and...anticipation of a new way of life outside of this school.”

As a pre-med student and an English major, Gaw plans to work as a Clinical Research Coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital and then apply to medical school the following year. But she has yet to process the fact that graduation, and her new chapter, is rapidly approaching. 

“[Seniors] have a lot of different emotional and practical responses to this question of how they're feeling about graduation,” Gaw said. “It might be, days, weeks from now, after all these ceremonies and graduation festivities, that I really kind of sit with what this time means.”


Ishani Raha | University News Editor

Ishani Raha is a Pratt sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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