The Day North Central Shut Down: One Year Later

by Jordan Mark

March 12, 2020 was the day North Central College announced their plans to shut down in-person classes and go online. This announcement was met with uncertainty, not only for the students who had no clue what it meant for their future, but for all the faculty and staff members, ranging from new hires to long-time employees, and really everyone else in the world. A virus that had been brewing for quite a while, but had only come to the public’s attention in recent months, was just declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization the day before. What started as a bright year that rang in the start of a new decade ended up becoming the year where the world froze icier than the North American cold wave of 2019.

Last year, Jette-Mari Anni wrote about her experience of North Central’s announcement and the subsequent reactions to people she was with nearby. She only had a few days to gather her thoughts when she wrote about her experience. I, on the other hand, have had a whole year to process the pandemic, and I still don’t have a concrete summary. So much has happened since that announcement that some of it may never be fully understood. How will future generations look at this pandemic? Will they wonder how society was unable to end something that could have easily been stopped in the first place? Is it possible to tell them our stories without them thinking we’re crazy, trippin’ or whatever new term will be invented in the future to mean “insane?”

That can’t be answered at this very moment, but in the meantime, let me invite you to my experience one year after the day North Central shut down. (Ok, so I wasn’t a student at North Central when they announced they were shutting down in-person classes, so the title is a bit misleading, but I still experienced similar things when the College of DuPage, my former college, announced their shut down.)

2020 started off reactive from jump: Kobe Bryant and one of his daughters, among others, passed away in a helicopter crash; Jennifer Lopez and Shakira performed at the Super Bowl with lots of Latin pride; March Madness was brewing with brackets around the corner. (I swear these will be the same topics the endless documentaries about the pandemic will introduce at the start of their films.) I was a student at the College of DuPage, working on an Associate’s Degree in psychology. In my last semester before transferring to North Central, I started to hear conversations about a virus. I’d known about it since January, but never took it seriously because at that point, I didn’t take anything that was “serious news” seriously. (It just makes your head go really numb.)

The days leading up to the World Health Organization announcement, the instructor for my writing class talked about the chance of the college going online, as nearby colleges had already done so. While proclaiming his statement, which I vividly remember him saying, “and we will get through this,” in a firm, non-bias tone, I was dismissive. Not toward him, but of the chances of it happening. I just took it one day at a time, but I still had the thought of it possibly happening in the back of my mind. That was the last time I saw that instructor in-person.

When the World Health Organization announced COVID-19 as a pandemic, I learned of it from a little banner on the Yahoo homepage and still was ditzy about it, secretly forgetting what “pandemic” meant. Even when College of DuPage President Brian Caputo announced the school was going online, I still wasn’t taking it too seriously. I was optimistic, even, thinking that we would be fully in-person after the weeks they initially planned for us to go online. Inevitably, we went online for the rest of the semester, and I wouldn’t get to physically attend my graduation, assuming I passed my classes.

At the time, I had multiple group projects to get done. One project had all my members in my group still present, “physically” and mentally, but I wasn’t as lucky with other projects. One group I was in had a member who dropped the class, but they were still willing to help. Another member of that same group was mentally depleting. Pregnant, they were still contributing to the project, but they’d seen an article of someone losing their baby as COVID-19 was sweeping through and got intensely worried over it happening to theirs. The other group project, which was formed when we went online, never existed as the others jumped ship. (As you can guess, I did the work all by myself!)

Months after the declaration, I got furloughed from my job. I wasn’t mad, but a co-worker talked to me on one of my last days about how they were enlisting in the army over the summer, and it made me think of how that opportunity was wiped away from them when COVID-19 struck.

Overall, I was managing pretty well. I was steeped in anticipation for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which conveniently released days after the pandemic was announced. I got to experience my third concert (assuming “Blue’s Clues LIVE!” doesn’t count) through the “iHeart Living Room Concert for America,” as artists like Alicia Keys, Backstreet Boys, Mariah Carey, and Elton John came on to sing their songs. I saw Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, unmask herself as The Bear on “The Masked Singer.” There were glimmers of happiness, but at the same time, I felt sad knowing that while I was all right at the time, the world around me isn’t operating like it should, and that was an uncomfortable feeling to endure.

Fairly soon, the news about COVID-19 was so prominent that you couldn’t escape it. And then, things got even more intense. There were numerous protests over justice for African Americans. Primary election results were rolling out as quick as it took for toilet paper to fly off shelves (except it didn’t because there wasn’t any!). Be with those who don’t wear masks, and get blasted with disgust and COVID-19. Don’t do anything about justice, and have the Desmond Tutu quote be the only image appear in an ocean of black squares. Wait for all the election results to happen, and hear people demanding to stop the votes. You now saw the world as a “Hunger Games” where there was a target on your back. Who the chaser was remained unknown, but it was because of who you aligned with that embroidered you with that target. You couldn’t be a spectator, to say the least. It’s clear that some views are more correct than others, but it had to be seen exactly the same way by everyone in your group. No alternatives, no suggestions, no personal say. You had to have 20/20 vision like everyone else.

It didn’t help that many icons passed away either. While I was celebrating my 21st birthday indoors (I don’t go out for my birthday anyway), in the back of my mind, I sensed the world mourning over the announcement of Chadwick Boseman’s death the day before, making me feel guilty of “celebrating” even a little for my personal endeavor.

After one and a half North Central semesters, a switch in studies, a new president, a Capitol riot, and 1,000 disposable masks later, I’ve reached a year of this COVID-19 world. With vaccinations being rolled out and the chance to speak on FM89 three days a week, there’s positive light. I guess what I need to do is what I was doing before the pandemic: take it one step at a time.