Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

A student reads a book alone at the top of Libe Slope on March 20, 2020.

April 5, 2020

‘It Doesn’t Feel Alive’: Seniors Cherish Their Final Moments in an ‘Apocalyptic’ Ithaca

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After classes were canceled, Cornell’s seniors realized they had pulled their last Uris Cocktail Lounge all-nighters and sat alongside their friends in lecture halls for the last time.

While most students evacuated their dorms and apartments for home, many seniors decided to stay in Ithaca for the remainder of their final semester. But with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) stay-at-home order, being in Ithaca means celebrating their time at Cornell in self-isolation.

For Nicholas Rahim ’20, there were “a ton” of factors for staying. While the decision was largely practical to avoid traveling to New York City and putting his parents at risk, it was also an attempt to “savor” his final few months on campus.

“This is my home,” Rahim said. “I’m not ready to say goodbye.”

But the home he’s known for the past three years isn’t the same.

“I’m used to the Arts Quad being filled with people, playing frisbee or sitting and chatting,” said Cole Johnston ’20. But even with the start of spring weather, campus is “eerily empty,” he said.

Johnston — who also stayed for the resources Ithaca offers that his rural hometown doesn’t — expected the three weeks off to be more like “beautiful, but empty” summers in Ithaca. Instead, he explained that there’s an “overtone of anxiety and stress.”

“Even in the summer when Cornell students aren’t here, it feels alive,” Johnston said. “And right now, it does not feel alive.”

Part of this feeling is that businesses, restaurants and bars have all shuttered their doors, leaving Collegetown empty at night, explained Annie Kline ’20. Some eateries remain open for takeout service, while others have turned off their lights indefinitely.

“It feels truly post-apocalyptic, is the best way to put it,” Kline said. “Everything has stopped and feels deserted.”

But these seniors are trying their best to make the most of the situation, spending time with their roommates and honoring their time in Ithaca.

Kline is currently self-isolating with her three roommates in their Collegetown apartment, where she thought it would be safer to stay than her hometown in Nassau County. The silver lining, she said, was that the time off has allowed her to enjoy Ithaca.

The past three weeks were filled with lots of walks outside, board games with her roommates and scrapbooking their favorite memories for Kline.

For other seniors on campus, it’s been a lonelier time, without much interaction.

Franco Uribe-Rheinbolt ’20 lives on campus and was approved to stay rather than fly home to Bogota, Colombia. He said he is trying to be intentional about spending time with friends online, watching movies and video-calling.

Uribe-Rheinbolt said he has also been trying to do small things to commemorate the “lasts” that have otherwise been lost — sifting through old photos, talking to close friends and taking to the slope to watch the sunset.

Mostly, the seniors described spending their extended spring break by processing the situation, reeling from the abrupt end to their college careers.

“It’s incredibly overwhelming to me on a day-to-day basis to try and comprehend the amount of things I lost in three days,” Johnston said. “I lost so many traditions, so many lasts.”