Almost seven months after the abrupt transition to online school and the mass exodus of Cornell students back to their hometowns in March, many students are reluctant to once again retreat into isolation as Thanksgiving break approaches.
When Cornell announced their reopening plans for the Fall 2020 semester, a key component was limiting travel to and from campus. To ensure holiday travels did not start a new wave of cases, the University decided to transition to fully online instruction and shut down campus starting on Nov. 25.
After a week of semi-finals, students currently living in Ithaca will pack up their belongings and travel home to finish the semester online.
This transition brings back memories of mid-March, when students were abruptly told to leave campus as COVID-19 first began sweeping through the United States. This time around, students are more prepared — but also more hesitant to relive the social trauma of leaving Cornell behind.
“I’m not feeling great,” said Margaret Keymakh ’23. “When I was at home over quarantine, the transition was not the best for my mental health. I feel like I’ve been doing so great in college now and I don’t really want to return to that environment.”
For first-years, leaving behind friends they just recently met is even more daunting. “It feels like we’re just still getting to know each other and we’re already halfway through the time we’re going to be staying here,” said Maya Devarajan ’23.
Despite not wanting to leave their college friends, many students admit they anticipate a much easier transition — socially and academically — now that everyone is prepared for what lies ahead.
“Academically I feel like I already know what it’s going to be like, it’s going to be very similar to when we transitioned online in March. Except now the professors have a little bit of a better idea of what does and what doesn’t work,” Keymakh said.
Ethan Ruben ’23 also believes his academic transition will go smoothly. “I’m lucky enough to have my room so I won’t be distracted,” he said. “I also only have one in person class so it won’t be too much of a transition. Everything is pretty much virtual anyways.”
In terms of plans for the extended break, which goes from Dec. 22 to Feb. 8, students are considering a variety of options, ranging from volunteer work to resume-building to holiday traditions.
“The Friday after Thanksgiving, my whole family, including my cousins and grandparents, go cut down our Christmas tree,” said Johnstone. “That will still be happening this year because we can be outside and with masks”
Chloe Solon ’23, who lives in the Pi Phi sorority house, plans on returning home by the end of Thanksgiving break and volunteering or working over the break. The “strict deadline” for closing down campus residences applies to sororities as well, meaning that everyone living at the sorority house will leave for break.
“Depending on how everything’s going, I might continue working at a coffee shop I’ve worked at before, which had a lot of trouble staying open because of the pandemic,” Solon said, “I also volunteer at a place at home helping people with disabilities … everything is sort of up in the air based on whether or not it can be open, but I would definitely love to do that.”
Ben Tupker ’23 and Zach Tupker ’23, twin brothers and members of the Cornell men’s ice hockey team, said they planned to stay in Ithaca through the winter.
“I’m currently living in a nine-person house in Collegetown, with eight other teammates,” Zach said. “We’ll be here throughout the whole break … everyone on the team will be staying in Ithaca if there is a season, fingers crossed there is.”
Ben echoed his twin, speculating about the coming hockey season. “It’s looking really positive that we’re going to have a season,” he said. “As of right now we’re not exactly sure what training and practice will look like at that point in time, but we’re pretty certain that it’ll reflect pretty much what we were doing at that point last year.”
Natives of Collingwood, Ontario, the brothers will not be able to return home for the holidays, due to quarantine restrictions with travel and the timeline of the team training.
The Tupkers plan to spend the extra downtime this winter spiffing up their resumes: Zach said he is interested in learning more about Python programming, while Ben plans to contribute work for the ILR Sports Business Society, which he recently joined.
Regardless of their plans for the break, Cornellians are grateful for the opportunity to have been on campus, even for a shorter period of time.
“I think Cornell was actually much more prepared and exceeded expectations. I thought I was going to be evicted after 2 weeks … I’m grateful for the time I’ve had here so far. If that means going back early, that’s fine,” Ruben said.