Life can change with the snap of a finger, a flip of a card or, in our case, the ping of an email notification. This past week, the holiday cheer and impending new year were clouded by an email sent by Stanford’s administration announcing that the first two weeks of the upcoming winter quarter would be online. This is all too familiar for students at this point — the ebb and flow of the COVID-19 pandemic creating uncertainty, our fates for in-person interactions at the hands of a microscopic torment and emails from our institution. To show how the art of the “pandemic email” has shaped our worries in an ever-changing world, we catalogued pivotal correspondence from the past two years. For the Class of 2025 and beyond: this is why panic ensued last Thursday. For everyone that remembers these emails: we’re sorry if these articles bring back any bad memories.
Winter and spring ’20: The beginning of an era
As Lorde sang in “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” let’s “go back and tell it.”
We’ll set the scene: winter quarter is coming to an end. Something about a miniature epidemic happened in a dorm, something about wild parties, a “Burbash” happening and a “Twain wreck” almost following. Finals week was looming. Stanford was being the typical Stanford — we wouldn’t really know, though, as neither of us were there. In fact, the only two classes that were on campus at the time and are still undergraduates were the Class of 2023 (who were frosh at the time) and Class of 2022 (sophomores). The majority of the Class of 2024 hadn’t been admitted yet, as they were high school seniors coasting through their final year, and the Class of 2025 were high school juniors who were months away from applying.
Then March 13, 2020 happened, the dreaded Friday the 13th, the day many people first felt the weight of the pandemic. High schools across the country announced extended spring breaks, naive students celebrated a period of rest, unaware of what would happen. At Stanford, the threat seemed more real; the University published 39 emails and messages just in the month of March of that year where the usual is less than 10. Change came in waves. Large scale campus events and Bing Overseas Programs were the first to go. Soon, campus went online, take-home exams were recommended and the incoming frosh class would not get the usual on-campus admit welcome. The chain-of-chaos would not stop — the University moved the upcoming spring quarter online and special circumstances. And at last, the real showstopper, students had to evacuate campus in five days and the 2020 Commencement Ceremony would no longer be in-person.
So, yeah. That was a lot. Like many across the country and around the world, the beloved spring quarter would be online, trading lecture halls for the then-underdeveloped Zoom and Google Meet. The Class of 2024 would be admitted during the crisis, on March 27, 2020, and their online admit experience would take place shortly after. With cases going down prior to Memorial Day weekend and a vaccine in the works, students were hopeful an in-person fall would be possible, and that Zoom schooling was very temporary.
The worst was to come.
Summer and fall ’20: The first of many
Optimism was still intact as Kyla, like many students, prepared for an in-person fall during the summer of 2020. Green was her dorm room accent color, she filled out her Approaching Stanford forms weeks before they were due and she checked GroupMe every day as her only social interaction outside of her family in months. As an incoming frosh, exhausted from being trapped in her house all day, she was excited about moving to Stanford — cases were going down and it seemed that the months ahead may hold a strange yet better ‘normal.’ After all, in late June, it was announced that not everyone would come back together, but rather under- and upperclassmen would take turns sharing Stanford. (She added “flex quarter” to her list of things to navigate.) It wasn’t ideal, but it was something; she would have fall and summer on campus.
July and August proved everyone wrong when cases began to climb signaling a new wave of the pandemic. On Aug. 13, 2021, it was announced that the Class of 2024 would be cemented as the one to never have had a frosh fall in-person, and the Class of 2023 would also not be able to return. Just weeks before fall quarter could commence, in-person classes and New Student Orientation (NSO) were canceled and replaced with online “equivalents,” the quarter would begin a week earlier with no finals week and everything would wrap up before Thanksgiving. Because of this, an abundance of students deferred enrollment or took a leave of absence, including 378 students from the Class of 2024.
As for the quarter itself: it was mostly bad. Students tried to make the best of it, but it was bad. It was hard to make friends and forge community in classes; you didn’t know anyone unless you were involved in extracurricular activities. Zoom fatigue and burnout grew sky-high while motivation tanked. There was a sense of stagnation — these formative years turn you into an adult, yet you were stuck in your childhood home. All we could hope for was the on-campus winter frosh and sophomores now had and spring for juniors and seniors …
Winter ’21: Another one bites the dust
We’re setting the scene again. This time last year, fall quarter came to a close, students finally able to press “x” on the dozens of tabs they had opened. The holiday season was not the same as it had ever been and COVID-19 cases were again at their peak. Didn’t matter — Stanford announced on Dec. 7, 2020 that frosh and sophomores would return to campus, adhering to the August plan. It was a period of joy — still cramped in the house but there was something to look forward to. For Christmas, Kyla was preparing to leave (again), gifts including a drying rack (which broke this past quarter) and a Brita filter.
Again, while students were pleased, some modifications were made for the winter experience. Students with special circumstances could go to campus a week before the quarter began. However, the rest of the frosh and sophomores would have to have to start the quarter at home for two weeks. Once they arrived, a quasi-quarantine for two additional weeks would occur. Then, for six weeks, the campus would be theirs to roam. It was so close that the classes of 2023 and 2024 could taste it.
Despite the fact that conditions of the pandemic had worsened weeks before winter quarter, students were not informed that the quarter would remain virtual until Jan. 9, 2021, two days before the term began. This was mainly due to the large increase in cases on campus from the initial move-in. That seemed to be a given prior to January, though, due to the state of the country, yet students were falsely assured it would be safe and efforts would move forward.
The rug was pulled out from underneath us once again. Plans and airplane tickets went to waste. People were left stranded on a desolate campus. Devastation ensued. This one was truly the worst. (Kyla was supposed to go to a car birthday party before this was announced and canceled plans due to the emotional roller coaster.) Many questioned if an in-person spring would be at all possible that school year.
Only time would tell …