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‘There’s still joy to be found outside of Stanford’: Seniors reflect on spring quarter away from campus

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As spring quarter comes to an end, graduating seniors face the last leg of their undergraduate career. Many of these seniors opted to spend their final 10 weeks on campus to bookend a college experience rocked by COVID-19. Some seniors, however, chose not to take Stanford up on its invitation to return. As their classmates returned to their old stomping grounds, The Daily spoke with three seniors who reflected on their choice to pass up a last hurrah on The Farm. 

With two parents in the medical field and loved ones with heightened health risks, COVID-19 safety concerns have kept Josh Nkoy ’22 — originally admitted to Stanford as a part of the Class of 2021 — home in Utah since the start of the pandemic. 

Unlike some of his classmates, spring quarter was not Nkoy’s last chance to return to campus; after taking a two-quarter leave his sophomore year, he plans to return in the fall before graduating this winter quarter. Nkoy added that he is surrounded by constant discourse about the virus. Unsure about vaccination patterns or new variants, he said he and his family agreed another quarter from home was the best option. 

Still, Nkoy said it has been difficult to watch Instagram and Snapchat stories of his friends in the California sunshine.

Elias Milborn ’21 said he shared a similar bittersweet experience catching up with friends who are living on campus. Catching a glimpse of Yost House, his old residence, in the background of a FaceTime call, it hit him: “I’m not going back there. I didn’t consider how much I would miss campus,” he said. 

Rather than spending the beginning of his senior year at home in New York, Milborn opted for a year-long experience living with friends who attend Brown University and have also spent their senior year in online school. On or off campus, Milborn said much of the experience is the same. He added that the “main pro of this year has been being around young people in the same boat.”

After fall and winter quarter at home, Melinda Hernandez ’21 was all too familiar with fatigue from online classes. In light of her spring study abroad plans being canceled last year due to COVID-19, Hernandez chose to spend her last quarter in Puerto Rico rather than on campus.

“For the Class of 2021, our college experiences were cut short,” she said. “I wanted to grant myself an experience that I can take with me forever.”

As an urban studies major, Hernandez said she has been able to supplement her online academic work with time spent in the city of San Juan. As someone of Puerto Rican descent, she said this quarter has allowed her to connect with her roots — an opportunity she had not planned for pre-pandemic. 

“My way of coming to terms with this reality has been realizing there’s life everywhere,” she said. “I don’t have this senior year to make memories with my friends, but there’s still joy to be found outside of Stanford.”

For Nkoy, this joy came in the form of family time, which he sees as the greatest gift to come out of this year. Whether it be walks to the park or a game of soccer, he has been able to spend his senior year alongside his younger brother, a college frosh. Though not the experience he planned for, Nkoy said he counts this time as a blessing. 

Milborn and Hernandez will join the rest of their graduating class at commencement on campus in June, which will be their first time back on campus since junior year. Despite the looming uncertainty of the next phase of their lives, the Class of 2021 has a year of experience under their belts. 

“If I can get through Stanford, then I can figure out this next stage of my life, too,” Hernandez said. 

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Marli Bosler is a writer in the News section. She is a freshman from Kirkland, WA, and she enjoys making Spotify playlists in her free time. Contact The Daily’s News section at news ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.