Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have felt their lives change drastically. For graduating seniors (and soon to be new alumni), meaningful milestones and celebrations have been put on hold as the entire world has hit pause to combat the virus. We reached out to University of Arizona Honors College senior, Julia Valgento, to find out how she is adjusting to this new normal and how it’s affected one of the most important times of her life.
What was life like for you before news of the pandemic broke?
Before the virus, I was going through the motions and enjoying my senior year at the University of Arizona. I was excitedly preparing for my commencement in May, working diligently to finish my Honors Thesis, and celebrating my last semester by spending time with friends. My days were typically jam-packed with my internship, jobs, school, homework, and socialization. Since freshman year, I worked at the Honors College and gradually took on other roles as a Resident Assistant, an intern at the Pima County Public Defender’s office, and a server as local restaurant on University Boulevard. I loved having a busy, fast-paced schedule.
When did you first realize that your life as a senior was about to change?
In early March, I left for spring break in Austin, Texas with some friends from college. Public concerns over COVID-19 were growing. Within a few days into my trip, the city of Austin canceled the South by Southwest—which was one of the first events to be canceled due to Coronavirus.
What was it like living on campus during lockdown?
Shortly after I returned to campus from spring break, classes had been pushed back and moved online temporarily. Then, the University sent an email encouraging students to not return to campus if it wasn’t necessary. Then, classes were moved online indefinitely. Emails with cancelations continued to pour in. My internship was terminated early, commencement was canceled, and restaurants closed within a few days. Residents packed up their dorm rooms and moved out in droves. Within a couple of days, my college experience had come to a screeching halt. I felt like college broke up with me out of the blue and said: “It’s not you, it’s COVID-19.”
How did you cope personally?
After most of the campus dining shut down, I realized what I needed to do. I decided to brave the grocery store to stock up on some food items. With many empty shelves, I got what I could then returned back to the dorm. Now, I was facing one of the biggest challenges yet—learning to cook in a dorm room, with limited ingredients, during a pandemic. Luckily, I managed to search Pinterest for enough recipes to get me through for a few weeks. From crockpot chili to pressure cooker pasta, I was able to get creative with new recipes. I was also able to supplement my homecooked meals with some meals from the ’85 North dining hall, since they still have limited operations. The dining area has been cleared out entirely and the only thing left is a taped off line with marks every six feet apart where students can wait for their premade pick up orders.
Were there any changes that surprised you or changed your perspective?
Despite the challenging adjustments, I have been able to gain new perspectives and experiences in quarantine. I have used the last few months to connect with friends and family I have not seen in a while. For example, I was able to celebrate my 22nd birthday over Zoom with some of my closest friends who are sprawled across the country. It was the first time my friends from high school, college, study abroad, and my summer internship were all able to meet. That is something I would have never thought to organize if it wasn’t for a global pandemic. It was such a fun way to spend the day and will certainly be an unforgettable birthday.
Are you still living in the Honors Village?
After a little over one month of staying in the dorm, it became a bit isolating to be sheltering in place alone. I have moved in with my sister and her roommates until things get back to normal. I now have so many things to look forward to. My sister’s roommates came up with “fake” holidays to make quarantine feel less boring. We have planned fun activities such as Cheese Board Game Night, Wacky Hat Wednesday and Cookie Dough Day. But, I am most excited to have a graduation celebration on May 15th. I cannot wait to celebrate graduation with some of my favorite people with lots of good snacks, and enough red and blue decorations to make the Sun Devils in the house go crazy. I definitely plan on carrying on our new tradition of virtual happy hours and fake holiday celebrations into my post-quarantine life.
What are you hopeful about moving forward?
While this is absolutely not how I wanted my senior year to end, I am so grateful to have a strong community of friends and family to reach out to during this time. I also look forward to coming back to the University of Arizona and the Honors College in the Fall so I can celebrate with my fellow graduates and regain some of our cherished senior memories as we prepare for life after graduation.
Julia is graduating with Honors from the Eller College of Management with a degree in Business Economics and a double minor in Africana Studies and Government and Public Policy, and plans to attend law school after graduation. She wants to advocate for a more equitable criminal justice system by helping to reform policies and practices that harm marginalized communities.