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'I'm sad to go out like this': For seniors, COVID-19 brings the premature end of an era

Seniors line up to walk onto Kenan Stadium for their Spring Commencement Sunday, March 8, 2016. 

Seniors line up to walk onto Kenan Stadium for their Spring Commencement Sunday, March 8, 2016. 

Seniors have traditionally hiked up the steps of the Bell Tower and signed their names on the bricks inside to celebrate their time at UNC each spring. This year's seniors are realizing they probably won't get to participate in that — and many other — campus traditions.  

The University announced Friday that spring commencement would be postponed to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. UNC is seeking student input on an alternative date. In addition, the campus is reducing operations as the University indefinitely moves to majority remote classes on March 23

Rachel Augustine, a statistics and analytics and peace, war and defense major, said she hopes the University makes up spring commencement for seniors. 

“It will be horrible if we worked hard for 4 years and don't get to celebrate that accomplishment,” Augustine said. 

Augustine, who's lined up a post-graduation internship in Washington, D.C., said she’s disappointed that she can no longer attend the multiple events and conferences that she was supposed to — especially ones relevant to her career like the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference. 

“I also am having to defend my thesis over Zoom,” she said, “as well as missing the senior research ceremonies and various other senior events.”

Rachel O’Reilly, a senior from Cary, is upset that traditions like senior bar golf and getting class rings are not possible as of right now. But most important for her is the graduation ceremony.

“That's the thing I was most looking forward to,” she said. “Not many people in my family have attended and graduated from four-year universities and so my graduation was very important for them, as it was for me.”

Authorities and experts have stressed the importance of social distancing as an important way to slow the spread of COVID-19. UNC has shut down its dorms and strongly encouraged all students to stay off-campus. 

For many seniors, such as Matt Potts, that means not getting to say goodbye to long-time friends.

“On the social side, I feel like my friends were just kind of ripped from me before being able to say a proper goodbye,” Potts said. “I understand that no one can do anything about it, but it’s very unfortunate that some of the people I met and befriended may never cross my path again.”

Potts, who is currently involved in a startup company with a friend, also said the coronavirus is affecting the business side of things. As cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina continue to climb, thousands of people may be unemployed in North Carolina as a result of social distancing efforts.

“We are being forced to completely change our marketing strategy and also are immensely affected by the plummeting economy as of now," Potts said. 

In a campus-wide email announcing the closures of UNC residence halls on Tuesday, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said this is an unprecedented time for the University. 

"We realize this update presents challenges for everyone," he said in the email. "This is not the Carolina experience we wanted for this semester, especially for our graduating seniors and graduate students.”

Despite a turbulent and disappointing conclusion to their semester, Potts is trying his best to keep a positive mindset.

“Carolina will always be home, and I’m sad to go out like this,” Potts said, “But I won’t forget everyone I met and all the wonderful memories I made.” 


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