Illustration by Jen Kelly

Happy Birthday, Graduation is Canceled

An account from an HSU senior living on campus
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An account from an HSU senior living on campus

I woke up on St. Patrick’s day—my birthday—to sobbing. My roommate was curled up on her bed, across the room, crying her eyes out. She cried for half an hour, if not more, because she’d just received the Humboldt State email canceling our graduation and asking students to leave campus if they were able. An achievement she has been working toward for seven years and one I have been busting my ass off for four years was all taken away in seconds. 

Instead of celebrating and going to the bars—in true St. Paddy’s day fashion—I spent the day in quarantine having to tell my family to cancel their plane tickets and Airbnb reservations because I wasn’t going to be able to walk. 

As one of the students left on campus, it’s strange, to say the least. When my roommate and I go for walks or head to get food from OhSNAP!, the university looks like a nightmarish scene from some dystopian novel. Usually, the only people you’ll find walking around campus are construction workers, nurses or other essential HSU staff. Every once in a while there’s the odd student or two, using what little resources are left available on campus.

In front of the health center, a tent is set up to greet all students where they sanitize their hands and grab a face mask before being allowed to enter the building—even students who just need to pick up medication from the pharmacy. 

The only students allowed to be seen at the health center are those who show severe symptoms like a fever, sore throat or difficulty breathing. But for those of us who need regular prescriptions through their pharmacy, be it for anxiety medication, emergency inhalers, birth control pills or other medications they offer, we can still access the pharmacy during their posted hours. 

In my opinion, this is one of the most concerning aspects of COVID-19. Students and community members cannot be tested through campus for the illness unless they are extremely sick, which leaves carriers with less severe symptoms to go untested.

Before campus was closed, my roommate and I came down with a cough and fatigue that wouldn’t seem to go away so we decided to visit the health center to see what was wrong, maybe a bit paranoid that we might have contracted the coronavirus somehow. But who isn’t a little paranoid during this pandemic? 

We were seated outside and only admitted into the entrance of the health center one-by-one. A blood pressure monitor, thermometer and other equipment were set up in the hallway, with two nurses wearing masks and gloves. We were given masks, examined and told that, unfortunately, if we did not show severe symptoms, they were unable to test us. 

In my opinion, this is one of the most concerning aspects of COVID-19. Students and community members cannot be tested through campus for the illness unless they are extremely sick, which leaves carriers with less severe symptoms to go untested.

My roommate and I were told we had post-viral infections and given medicine to treat that, but the truth is, we could very well have had the illness and not known because of arbitrary rules only allowing people very ill to access tests.

I’m still sad that graduation was canceled and I know that it’s a momentous accomplishment that I will never get back. But it’s more important to me that we keep people safe than having the chance to walk across the football field to accept a degree. 

There are “asymptomatic” carriers of COVID-19, meaning there might be tons of people in the area infected with the coronavirus without any knowledge they are sick. There might be people who have mild symptoms who are unable to be tested and are unintentionally spreading illness because they think they aren’t that sick. We aren’t only putting the health of students at risk by not testing those concerned they might have the illness, we are endangering the nurses and doctors who are still working through the health center, members of the community that students might come into contact with while grocery shopping or performing essential tasks during quarantine. 

But this isn’t only a concern in Arcata. The reason behind such arbitrary testing rules is because, as reported by The New Yorker, there is a critical shortage in medical equipment necessary to perform tests. This is why those who are extremely ill are being prioritized over people who don’t show as many symptoms. We simply do not have the resources to test everyone, so people infected with the illness are falling through the cracks, living their normal lives and potentially spreading the illness because they are unaware they even have it.

While those who are sick, but not sick enough, cannot get tests, celebrities who show no symptoms of COVID-19 are allowed to be tested, leaving medical professionals, sick patients and community members to wonder if their lives are less important than the rich.

I’m sitting in my dorm right now going a bit stir-crazy, still trying to find things to do to occupy my time while I practice social distancing in quarantine. Last week, my roommate and I painted canvases to pass the time. I started learning embroidery because I was that bored and today I went to my Zoom English class, then spent the day writing and watching movies with my roommate. We’ve downloaded TikTok just to pass the time.

I’m still sad that graduation was canceled and I know that it’s a momentous accomplishment that I will never get back. But it’s more important to me that we keep people safe than having the chance to walk across the football field to accept a degree. 

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2 Comments

  1. Dylan Dylan Tuesday, April 14, 2020

    I sympathize entirely. I came to HSU in 2011 with no real idea about what I wanted to do and struggled with school, fell out of extra curricula’s, fought my way back in only to keep riding what seemed like endless ups and downs every single semester. I left for a year after a second cancer diagnosis and again fought my way back. After 9 years total I’m finally set to graduate in a program I’ve grown to love in a department that is full of supportive staff and faculty (go Geology) and to have it all dashed at the finish line gives me the most surreal anticlimactic daze. I went as far as to rent a venue at the Humboldt Bay Social Club, reserve beer and wine, and secure Los Giles for the evening. I understand the health concerns and will not argue against them, but I sure wish there was some way for all of this to have worked out better for us grades this year. I’d consider walking once all of this has blown over, but who’s to say we’ll be free to travel and stay for a weekend in Arcata 9 months from now.

  2. Daniel Helm Daniel Helm Thursday, April 16, 2020

    I came to education as a drop out high school student. I worked in HVAC, then stone fabrication, before someone I ended up caring more fore than myself showed up. This was 2014. Fast forward to now, and over 10 resident moves later I sit here. My last semester, Class of Spring 2020. No commencement, all plans cancelled due to COVID-19. But, although sad, we will use this sad time in history as a time to ponder… wait that is over… we will use this for the most powerful thing, motivation to future endeavors! We will move forward without sadness and only move towards being stewards of humanity and our environment! — Love, a member of the Spring 2020 graduation class!

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