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The Daily Tar Heel

From the class of 2021 to 2025, The Daily Tar Heel spoke to UNC students who reflected on their experiences throughout the last two years of the pandemic.

Chapter 4: ‘Mom, it’s real’

On the first day of classes during the fall 2021 semester, Winter Earnhardt called her mom crying.

“Mom, it’s real,” she said over the phone.

Earnhardt was talking about the liveliness of the UNC campus on the first day of classes — something that, as a sophomore, she’d never experienced before.

What seemed like the entire UNC population was in the Pit, singing and dancing and enjoying themselves. She saw the school's mascots, Rameses and RJ, wandering around campus and interacting with students.

During her first semester at UNC in the fall of 2020, Earnhardt stayed in Koury Residence Hall after most students were sent home due to rising COVID-19 cases. Campus was so desolate that Earnhardt said she maybe saw one other person each day.

“Everything was so quiet that I stayed in my room because I could at least pretend that it was just a 'me' thing,” she said. “That I'm the one staying in my room, not that the campus was dead. Because when I would try and go study in the library or anything, it was just so surreal. It was kind of scary.”

But the spring 2021 semester brought more changes for Earnhardt. She moved into an off-campus apartment, enrolled in some classes that were to be taught hybrid and was excited for a more in-person learning experience.

“I was like, ‘I'll wear a mask, I'll wear three, I don't care, get me in a classroom,’” Earnhardt said. “But I definitely felt like all of the expectations that I had were let down. Because half my classes still were online, and then the ones that were in person didn't even really feel like they were worth it because we were so spaced out and nobody wanted to talk to each other after class.”

Also during the 2020-21 school year, Earnhardt wasn’t able to get any clinical shadowing hours. She came to college with absolute certainty that she wanted to go to medical school, but it wasn’t until she got a job as a home health aide in the fall that she realized she wanted to be a physical therapist instead. 

She changed her major to psychology and exercise and sports science and, looking ahead to the spring semester, feels happy with where she is right now.

“I kind of saw it as my complete fresh start,” Earnhardt said. “When I was doing whatever our new form of registration was, I was happy to be registering for classes. Everything said in-person, everything was open. I was so excited, and I still am really excited.”

Click here to read the next part, Chapter 5: ‘We were forced to fast-forward our lives’

Click on the links below to navigate to other parts of the series:

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