When JMU seniors left campus for spring break, many didn’t realize they wouldn’t be returning for the remainder of the semester.
In an email to the JMU community on March 11, President Jonathan Alger notified students that classes would be moving online until April 5. A week later on March 18, he extended remote instruction through the remainder of the spring semester.
Following this announcement, a number of seniors have voiced their frustrations with the decision on social media. Senior business major Caroline Buley said it’s been difficult knowing she won’t return to JMU for in-person classes. Because of the abrupt change in university procedure, she said, she missed the opportunity to say goodbye to people she may never see again.
“I didn't know that I was experiencing certain lasts,” Buley said. “I think the hardest part is not being able to say goodbye to those random people in your organizations or those people you pass on campus or those that are younger than you.”
Buley said she thinks there’s going to be a learning curve for many students and professors who don’t have experience with online education. She said the transition may be difficult for herself and many others.
“For the past four years, I've learned a lot through being in actual classes, and I've never taken an online class,” Buley said. “So, it's definitely going to be an adjustment, but I understand why we have to do them.”
Master’s elementary education student Mallory Donaghue (’19) said moving classes online poses some problems for her practicum research project she’s been working on since the fall. Before spring break, she worked in Harrisonburg schools twice a week and said remote instruction means she’ll be unable to finish conducting the research needed to complete her project.
“The first eight weeks of the semester we spent preparing for this research project and writing a 20-page paper,” Donaghue said. “And [now], we're just kind of at a dead-end for what we're going to be able to do for that project.”
Donaghue said the final half of this semester was crucial for her. She added that it’s frustrating she won’t be able to spend it learning hands-on from teachers.
“These were the last eight weeks before I'm going to go out into the world and start my real teaching job,” Donaghue said. “They're the last eight weeks that I have to collect all these resources and learn from teachers, and now I'm going to have to learn how to be creative through online measures.”
Senior political science major Ethan Gardner said he’s disappointed with the circumstances for seniors but said he respects that the university made its decisions from a standpoint of safety. Serving as the legislative affairs chair for the Student Government Association leadership team, Gardner said he’s working closely with other campus organizations to make sure students understand the severity of the situation.
“At this point, our focus has been communication to students and making sure that students understand that these public health guidelines are really important to follow,” Gardner said. “The quicker we can abide by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] public health guidelines and engage in social distancing, the quicker we can get the situation back to normal, hopefully.”
After Alger’s initial announcement on March 11, the fate of spring commencement ceremonies was unknown. An online petition created to keep the class of 2020’s graduation ceremonies in place garnered almost 4,000 virtual signatures.
A few days after the petition was created, in his March 18 email, Alger announced that commencement had been postponed “to a later date.” Senior hospitality and business double major Anastacia Martin said this decision is an upsetting outcome for her father, who’s in the military.
“When I transferred [to JMU] in 2017 for the fall semester, he had to go ahead and put in leave time in order to get approval for graduation for me,” Martin said. “Since it's going to get postponed, now my father is not able to make it at all.”
Martin said that although she’d rather have graduation postponed than canceled altogether, she said it won’t be the same either way. She said she knows the university will still make the ceremonies special, but is disappointed that she won’t get to experience the final days on campus leading up to graduation.
“At least we’re not going to have our spotlight moment taken from us,” Martin said. “But then again, we were all going to make and create all these memories before graduation. I think it’s something we’re all still processing.”
Senior media arts and design major Cameron Shapiro said she’s devastated that she won’t have a normal end to her senior year. But, she said she understands the university’s decision to keep students away from campus.
“I think because there's so many of us in one place that it probably is smart,” Shapiro said. “[But] I've seen so many seniors go through this amazing time at the end of their school year, and it just kind of feels like everything we’ve worked towards is just being taken away from us.”
Despite this adversity, Shapiro said she’s remaining optimistic of the future and encourages others to do the same.
“Even though my world feels like it's crashing down a little bit right now, I'm trying to keep a positive mindset that this isn't the end,” Shapiro said. “The JMU community’s strong, so we’ll all make it back together somehow, at some time.”
Contact Amy Needham at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.