‘I was devastated’: 5C seniors react as final semester cut short

Two women, surrounded by people, embrace.
Students embrace following the March 11 announcement that classes at the Claremont Colleges would move online. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

Valentina Emanuele Jervis PO ’20 was sitting in her room around noon on March 11 when her roommate told her to check her email. At the top of her inbox: “Urgent Update: Pomona Shifting to Online Courses as Coronavirus Precaution.” Emanuele turned to her roommate. 

“This is it,” she said. “This is our senior year.”

When the 5Cs made the announcement that Wednesday that classes were moving online, it turned life on its head for each student, but especially for seniors. Pack up. Leave if at all possible. 

Djassi Julien HM ’20 woke up to the news, having taken a math midterm late the night before. 

“Some of my suitemates were in the suite and we spoke about it briefly. But then I kind of just grabbed my stuff and went to go hand in my exam, because I had class at 1:15 as well,” Julien said. “It was impossible to focus. I probably didn’t retain anything that day.” 

Across the 5Cs, students said goodbyes to friends, professors and their respective colleges, some of which they were seeing for the last time. Then they packed up their things and left

“I had no time. I wasn’t capable of packing my room that day and sacrificing not seeing my friends for the last time because of that,” Emanuele said. “I went to Marston Quad and just hung out with my friends there for a little bit.” 

“This is it. This is our senior year.” 

– Valentina Emanuele Jervis PO ’20

Spending time with longtime friends took on an urgent tone as seniors began to leave campus for the last time.

“I remember having every meal time scheduled either with a person or group of people that I was saying goodbye to,” Julien said.

The quick departure left seniors with little time to reflect on their college experiences.

“You have to say goodbye sooner than you think to the little things, things that you’ll miss like being on campus, different academic buildings and seeing different professors,” Preet Khowaja PO ’20 said. “So, not having that robs you of closure in some ways. … You say the goodbye in two days that you were supposed to say in two months.”

Seniors had to juggle the end of their time in college with classes, work and packing.

“I was devastated,” Clint Isom PZ ’20 said. “Obviously people’s health and safety is the most important thing … But it is sad, still.” 

With commencements postponed at every college, seniors were forced to put off one of their most anticipated celebrations with friends and loved ones. 

Emanuele’s family had purchased plane tickets to fly from Ecuador for her graduation, which would have been their first time visiting Pomona.

“It was a really big effort,” she said. “I was looking forward to the rest of the semester, spending time with my friends, being able to connect more with professors, and for graduation having my family come visit, meet my professors, meet my friends and all of that.”

Some felt jarred or cheated by an ending that felt incomplete.

“You say the goodbye in two days that you

were supposed to say in two months.”

Preet Khowaja PO ’20

“You put in four years of hard work and you expect some kind of celebration for your achievements,” Khowaja said. “We’ve been looking forward to this semester as a nice end to that entire experience. To have that taken away — it’s really hard to come to terms with.”

Seniors also lamented the months of time and energy they’d put into activities, performances and plans that never materialized.

“The things that I put a lot of work into were essentially just never going to get to happen,” said Samantha Yu SC ’20, who was preparing for two theater productions.

Yu, who had never performed in a play before, said she was dedicating her senior year
“to letting myself do all these things that I almost said I didn’t have time for.”

Other seniors also lamented that their special plans for their final year were canceled. 

“I’m really upset because April is the biggest month as far as events go on campus. And it’s also Gaypril,” Isom said. “I had actually planned a big drag show for the beginning of April that had to get canceled.”

Laleh Ahmad CM ’20, the senior class president and primary planner of CMC’s Vegas Trip, Senior Awards Ceremony and Thesis Party, said via email that the events were supposed to be “milestones.” 

“The Vegas trip took a lot of time and energy to plan and a lot of people were looking forward to it, and so it was pretty difficult to see it go by without any celebration,” Ahmad said.

The last two months of senior year are usually especially precious, seniors said.

“Most seniors use these two months to do all the fun things that they wanted to do for four years, which includes the senior trip you take before you graduate in May,” Khowaja said. “It includes our last Sanskriti, which is really important for us in the South Asian community. It includes commencement. It includes ISMP [International Student Mentor Program] graduation. Just like the things you always expect, or take for granted they’re gonna happen, and you leave those things for last.” 

After years of independence on campus, many seniors have found themselves back at home, in friends’ and relatives’ homes or isolated in dorms. Seniors said finishing strong academically is difficult under these new circumstances.

Those writing theses also suffer from a lack of access to the books and academic services, as well as distractions from other pandemic-related issues.

“I’m writing my math thesis, and it’s really hard to try and work, because there’s so much going on. And we’re anxious and concerned about our families back home and we’re all alone here,” said Khowaja, who is still living on campus. “So I’m trying to get back into working, but it’s hard.”

Still processing their sudden departure, seniors are wondering what the pandemic means for their education, their communities and their futures. 

“It is difficult to be reverted back to my high school bedroom, when I had just had almost four years of awesome independence and feeling more confident in myself and being surrounded by my friends and support system,” Yu said. “It was also just heartbreaking to see everybody just have to end this part of their lives so quickly.”

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