Since the 10th of March, I have not seen any of my students.
I sit here finishing up the last of student submissions from my now five online writing classes, and the surrealness, the dreamlike quality of the slipping away of this school year is nothing short of fantastically strange.
On some afternoons, I snap the leash on my dog and we travel over to the now-empty campus and we take the long way walk around. Every once in a while, we come across a student who is still living in the dorms, and we wave, smile to one another. Every once in a while, we come across a parent with a student, who has scheduled a visit back to campus to retrieve the last of their belongings. Every time we notice the empty lunchroom in Marsh Hall, the empty blue Adirondack chairs on the lawn, that on those warm first days of spring have students relishing the New England faux summer day, splayed in the chairs like giant starfish, backpacks and books on the grass, their faces lifted to the sun. Every time we notice the empty dormitory reception areas, the empty high top tables at the Starbucks on the first floor of Viking Hall, that on any afternoon in the semester would be full of students working on projects, staring at screens, annotating texts, their lattes precariously balanced at the table’s edge. Along the bike path, there is spring green, a spray of forsythia, you can see the harbor just past the ball field. An egret is statue still in the marsh.
Before we left for spring break, the green shoots that will become day lilies, that will bloom come early July at the end of classes in Summer One, were apparent. This week we note the blossoming pink trees, that line the walkway into the Sullivan Building, the flowering plum trees along the library’s frontage in the center quad, where the tennis courts once stood. The lilac bushes that divide the Sullivan Building from the Administration Building are thickening with that tender spring green color.
If this were any other spring, as soon as the dog and I hit the walkways between buildings, the students would ask to pet what they think is a puppy. He’s small and resembles a plush toy one might find in Build-a-Bear, but in reality he’s 10. Finnegan adores the attention, sits on their laps, moves his head so that their fingers hit just where he likes to be scratched beneath his chin. He’ll look through the glass in the cafeteria and try to worm his little doggie way into a dorm, acting as if he is with a group of students.
We are lonely without the students, and I wonder how they are all doing, with the semester coming to such a chaotic end. Some students were pulled back into part-time jobs at supermarkets, or as health aids in nursing homes, or they became caregivers to grandparents, teachers to younger brothers and sisters, finding supplemental work because their parents were furloughed or laid off. I worry about them every day. I worry for their futures, and whether they will be able to afford to return in fall.
I will miss graduation, an event I encourage my students to attend – as the ceremony is always a wonderful event. You watch the seniors who you might have had in Composition One, shaking the president’s hand, and you exhale realizing, oh good, they made it across the finish line. They made it to their future. And while this year is scarier, I believe if you have persevered through the online classes, the abruptly cancelled internships, the somewhat snowless winter, the unexpected end to your semester abroad, and made it through the oddest spring we’ve ever witnessed; well then just ponder for a minute all that this COVID-19 spring has thrown across your path, as one more accomplishment, as you go forward in life.
Regina Robbins Flynn is the coordinator of the Professional Writing Program in the English Department at Salem State University. She makes her home in Salem.