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Quarantine in Oberlin

May 7, 2020

This is not how I imagined my senior year ending.

This was supposed to be the semester to celebrate all the work of the past four years; I pictured myself sitting in sunny Wilder Bowl after class, grabbing Feve brunch with friends on the weekends, and playing soccer with my teammates at spring captains’ practices. All of those expectations made it even more surreal to see the entire campus pack up and leave in less than a week when it became clear how real a threat coronavirus was.

Those last few days when everyone was here were a blur of goodbyes, tears (lots of tears), and absolute exhaustion. But they are also, strangely, some of my favorite memories from this year. Even though everyone was frantically moving and making travel plans, I was able to spend time with people that felt meaningful and almost momentous under the circumstances.

a group of students picnics on the grass in North Quad
Our last swim team dinner before everyone left campus

The experience of helping everyone move and make travel plans was particularly strange for me because my housemates and I live off campus and decided to stay in Oberlin for quarantine. A lot of our other friends who live off campus also chose to stay in the hopes of creating some semblance of senior year spring by spending it in Oberlin.

That first week of quarantine, it was such an eerie feeling to watch campus get quieter and quieter as everyone left. I was definitely nervous about the decision to stay here without any of the normal infrastructures of the college. But now, over a month into quarantine, I’m so happy I’m in Oberlin. 

Life here during the pandemic is, in a word, quiet. During the day I go to classes and meetings on Zoom, do homework, and sometimes work out with my housemates. We make and eat dinner together every night; thank goodness we all know how to cook due in large part to being in OSCA! Even though other seniors and students are still here, everyone is being careful about social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

That said, it’s always nice to see friends in Tappan or on walks (from a distance) and I've attended several Zoom birthday parties and lots of Zoom game nights in the past few weeks. While it’s definitely sad to see campus completely empty, especially on beautiful days when Wilder Bowl would usually be packed and full of life, the longer I’m here, the more I am grateful I’ve had this time to further develop my relationship with Oberlin as a place.

As a swimmer, I’ve long considered running my mortal enemy, but with pools shut down indefinitely, I’ve turned to running as my quarantine outlet. Shockingly, I actually love running in Oberlin. This town is incredibly beautiful in a way I never fully appreciated before this semester. On my runs, I’ve been able to finally visit places I’ve been meaning to go for years but have never found the time to, like the Frank Lloyd Wright House, the solar panel array, Westwood Cemetery, and the bike path. I also go to the Arb almost every day now to spend some time around nature. As I have started running through neighborhoods I had never been to before, I feel like I’ve gotten a much better sense of how all of Oberlin connects geographically, and of the town as a whole.

sunset over a pond
A beautiful sunset at the Arb

I’ve written previously about how Oberlin spring is my favorite holiday season, and while all of those usual events being canceled is undeniably sad, it’s also given me time to appreciate Oberlin as a place so much more.

Whenever people ask me why I chose to go here for college, my answer is simple: the people. I have never met more passionate, engaged, supportive people than I have here and over the past four years, I’ve spent as much time as possible around them, packing my evenings and weekends with concerts and performances and events of every kind. Because I spent so much time focused on the people and the college, my sentiment was that I came to Oberlin even though it’s in a small town.

But now, with the college shut down for the semester, I feel much more like a resident of Oberlin as a town than I ever did before and I’m realizing that so much of what makes Oberlin special is in fact because it’s small. This is such a wonderful place to live with its tight-knit community, incredible history, so many great local businesses, beautiful old houses, and numerous parks.

three students stand in a tree blooming with pink flowers
Spending some much needed time outside with my housemates

I never would have chosen for my senior year to end this way. This pandemic is terrifying and dismal and something I don’t think any of us expected to experience. But it is also something I will remember forever. For the winter term podcast series I did at Kendal Retirement Home, I talked to lots of Oberlin alumni about difficult historical events they lived through as students, including the Vietnam War, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. They all told me about what it meant to experience those events while at Oberlin, how they felt more connected to this place as a result.

I finally understand what they mean in a way I never could have imagined I would. After the last month, I feel forever bonded to Oberlin in a completely unique way. This situation is horrible, but I’m incredibly grateful to spend quarantine here, safe and surrounded by a place and people I love.

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