College in the time of coronavirus

By Geoffrey Morris
Stuttgart Citizen volunteer

A recent SHS graduate, Sara Kitchin, serves a customer at Dunkin Donuts on Panzer Kaserne, where she works while attending college online. Photo by Geoffrey Morris, Stuttgart Citizen volunteer.

When the COVID-19 arrived in early March, it was immediately clear that life was changing drastically. One group hit particularly hard was Stuttgart High School seniors. Not only did the Class of 2020 see most activities during their final semester of high school canceled and graduation reduced to a drive-in ceremony, but their post-graduation plans were thrown into disarray.

“Obviously, this isn’t ideal for anybody,” said Geneva Barriger, who graduated SHS in 2019.

As COVID-19 cases soared stateside, some students who were planning to start college in the fall arrived at their new school just to be turned away from campus as colleges and universities scrambled to provide a safe learning environment for staff and students.

2020 SHS graduate and valedictorian Erin Taylor and her family at the drive-in ceremony. Photo by Becca Castellano, USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs.

At the University of California, SHS Class of 2020 valedictorian, Erin Taylor, started her school year in the classroom. A month later, she said the campus was shut down to anyone not living in dorms and all classes have moved online. To prevent crowding, campus housing is limited to those who have nowhere else to go. Those who could go home were refunded their housing costs, but other SHS graduates studying around the country have found themselves without a dorm room or a refund.

Another SHS class of 2020 alum, Erin Mitchell, is studying chemical engineering at the University of Alabama. Two of her five classes are digital and the remaining three are flexible, with the class divided into groups that rotate between in-person and online. Sports have been canceled and Mitchell said there is nothing social going on. While the measures have proven effective in lowering campus cases from 1000 to 300, it has been far from the freshmen year she imagined.

A 2019 SHS graduate, Olivia Schmitz, was in her second year at the University of Utah when changes began happening overnight. A campus of more than 25,000 students became a ghost town, she said. Everyone has been affected in some way, according to Schmitz.

One group severely affected has been student athletes. SHS 2019 star wrestler, John “Trip” Carroll, remarked that the start of practice was delayed for quite a while. The wrestling season has since resumed but with masks and social distancing.

Military academies have successfully contain the virus despite heightened COVID-19 cases in surrounding communities.

Another group of graduates who are in attendance at military academies shared their experiences.

“There have been so many new policies,” said Rachel Sanborn, valedictorian of the class of 2019 and chemistry major at the Naval Academy. “It’s actually quite confusing to know what to follow.”

Masks and social distancing are mandated at all times, and students are required to act as though they already have the virus and need to avoid contact and spread. Additionally, quarantines have been established for all students before going into standard housing. Those policies have led the military academies to successfully contain the virus despite heightened COVID-19 cases in surrounding communities.

“This virus has been difficult for everyone….Be patient with yourself and others. If we come together and help each other, we’ll pull through.”

Another class of 2020 alumna, Vivienne Johnson, is studying biology at the Citadel in South Carolina. Like the Naval Academy, the Citadel has proven to be an outlier for their respective states and communities, as they have maintained discipline and decorum preventing outbreaks like the ones occurring on campuses nearby.

Overall most said they have found the situation very isolating. But for those who opted to stay in Stuttgart, there have been a few positives like being near family. Many of them are now employed somewhere on base, especially AAFES and the hotels.

Like several other classmates, Sarah Kitchin has been able to continue working on post to save for college and life down the road while attending school online. She said the virus made the choice to study from the safety of her home an easy one.

Schmitz offered some words of advice for her classmates, whether they are attending college stateside or still living in the Stuttgart community.

“This virus has been difficult for everyone, and it will be for some time but with self-discipline and effort, we can weather this storm,” she said. “Be patient with yourself and others, no one has a concrete, foolproof plan, but if we come together and help each other we’ll pull through.”