Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Students take portraits on Ho Plaza after announcement of classes being moved to online due to COVID-19.

April 13, 2020

Ending the Year Online, Seniors Lament a Semester Cut Short

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After three weeks without any in-person or virtual instruction, Cornell students have now completed their first week of online courses over Zoom. For the Class of 2020, this is not how they imagined their final semester at Cornell.

Sabira Mehjabin ’20 said that the return to instruction “required a huge adjustment.”

“My day-to-day became less regulated and I didn’t follow any sort of routine,” Mehjabin said. “I would go to sleep a few hours before the sun came up, and I would wake up in the late afternoon. Every day felt the same and it was hard to even keep track of which day of the week it was.”

Part of what made this transition to online classes challenging is that two of her courses are not taking place over Zoom at the same time as they did in-person, Mehjabin said.

Other professors have changed their course times or have chosen to pre-record their lectures instead of holding them live, in order to make the material accessible for students dispersed across the globe.

However, Mehjabin said that this makes it harder to keep track of when she should be attending classes and during which times.

“It feels like the start of the semester all over again, just without the excitement,” Mehjabin said.

The return to Zoom classes was a partial return to normalcy and routine. Although students joined their virtual lectures from locations across the world, they were able to see and speak to their professors and peers once again.

While some courses can be smoothly transitioned to a Zoom lecture, others, like Julia Barravecchio ’20’s class Performing and Media Arts 3220: Dance Technique III/Modern, are not so easy to host online.

The dance class continues to practice over Zoom, but not without new challenges, Barravechio said.

“It is difficult to coordinate with others and to hear the music, and there are often lags in sound,” she said. “The feeling of being in the class with others is definitely lost, especially for those with limited space to move in at home.”

Another class that is heavily reliant on in-person interaction and materials is Hotel Administration 4300: Introduction to Wines, a class that is largely popular due to its wine tasting component.

Sidarth Giddu ’20 is an electrical and computer engineering major at Cornell. Like many seniors, Giddu looked forward to taking Introduction to Wines.

Giddu said that he waited until he was a spring semester senior to take the course, as it signified a change of pace from his engineering coursework and was a way to celebrate his final semester at Cornell.

“Now that campus has closed, I’m missing out on the fun of tasting the wines in class,” Giddu said.

Giddu said that instead of enjoying the typical seven wines that students taste during each class, the Zoom class was merely “two hours of dry lecture without any tasting.”

“I still think the material is interesting, but the fun aspect of the class is gone,” Giddu said.

Giddu said that Prof. Cheryl Stanley, hotel administration, posted the tasting sheets for all of the remaining lectures on the course’s Canvas site, so students can view the names of the wines in advance and purchase them for tasting — which is optional.

Stanley also informed her students of discounted wines available for shipping to most states in the U.S. However, students would still be spending a small fortune on wine, as they would have to buy a full bottle of each kind of wine that they taste.

Though most students in the class are seniors and of legal age, students are fearful to go to the store to purchase the wines, as they could be exposing themselves and their families to the virus.

Giddu is a senior and over 21 years old, but he chose not to buy wine for the lecture. He said that the majority of students in the class did not.

As students enter their second week of online courses, many questions still surround the fate of the Class of 2020’s commencement ceremony.

In an email sent to the Cornell community on March 20, President Martha E. Pollack stated that commencement would not take place over Memorial Day weekend, as was originally planned. However, while students will still earn their degrees on time, commencement is still set to take place in Ithaca, but at a later date.

Pollack said she doesn’t know precisely when or where, “but we will celebrate: We will have a commencement –– and it will be a joyous one!”

“Though I am sad that commencement will not be happening in May, it was comforting to know that there will be an in-person ceremony at some point,” Barravecchio said. “It took a lot of the uncertainty and stress away knowing that the ceremony will not be diminished to an online substitute.”

Aside from concerns over adjusting to Zoom in order to complete courses, graduating seniors also abruptly left the campus and community that they have called home for nearly four years.

“I won’t experience my final moments in a Cornell classroom, or my last Slope Day,” Mehjabin said. “I won’t ever be able to attend the senior week events that I’ve been looking forward to since last May.”

“I can’t single out one thing that I was most looking forward to,” Mehjabin added. “I was just looking forward to having the senior spring of everyone before me.”