Lehigh seniors react to online classes for remainder of semester

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Griffin Jones, ‘20 and Srini Laliwala, ‘20 embrace as they process the news of Lehigh's move to online courses for the remainder of the spring semester Friday, March 13, 2020, in front of Broadhead Residence Hall. The two first heard of Lehigh’s move to online classes while on their senior spring break trips. (David Owolabi/B&W Staff)

As the world reacts to the coronavirus pandemic, colleges and universities across the United States are moving courses online.

Lehigh is no different. On March 12, members of the Lehigh community were alerted through an email that Lehigh would cancel in-person classes for the remainder of the spring semester. 

The campus-wide email also strongly discouraged non-essential gatherings of 25 or more people, and prohibits gatherings of more than 100 people.

As the impact of coronavirus on the nation continues to grow, college and university closures are just one of many unprecedented measures being implemented to curb the spread of the virus.

Lehigh’s decision to move to online courses comes just as many seniors prepared to return to campus from spring break. 

Like many, Srini Laliwala, ‘20, learned about the decision when he was at the airport.

“Classes being cancelled I don’t think was that heartbreaking, but then in the next 24 hours, literally everything got cancelled,” Laliwala said. “Teams, clubs and really anything that people have been working for are kind of shattered. It sucks to see everybody’s efforts go to waste.”

Lehigh’s shift to online courses means seniors’ college experience — as they’d known it — was over. The coronavirus pandemic threatens to prevent many seniors from soaking up their last few weeks as undergrads. 

When Griffin Jones, ‘20, heard about Lehigh’s decision to go online, she was still in New Orleans for a spring break trip. 

Jones said she is saddened with what the move online means for the remainder of her time in college.

“There are people that I know I may not ever see again,” Jones said. “It’s really hard to get over knowing there’s things that I’ll never do again. So many plans and things that are unfinished.”

For Sara Kujalowicz, ‘20, the news of Lehigh’s closing means she will not get the closure she once expected from her time at school. 

“It’s heartbreaking that you aren’t able to say goodbye to the people you’ve had classes with all these past years, or the professors you formed relationships with,” Kujalowicz said. 

Lehigh’s closing as a result of coronavirus also casts doubt on whether or not commencement will run as scheduled May 18.

Shrivats Agarwal, ‘20, is set to graduate in May, but is unsure what the commencement process will look like.

“The fact that it’s uncertain that we’ll be able to walk across that podium and share that moment with our friends, family and everyone that’s been a part of that Lehigh experience, that’s very sad,” Agarwal said. “Twenty years down the line, I don’t know if I’ll have a graduation picture. I’ll probably have my degree mailed to me. It’s heartbreaking given the time, effort and money we all spent.”

Kujalowicz shared the disappointment that the class of 2020 may not undergo a formal commencement, though the university has not officially decided on whether or not it will hold commencement as scheduled. 

“I don’t think our class has been together since orientation weekend, and to not have that one last opportunity to do so…We’re all just in disbelief,” Kujalowicz said.

Agarwal doesn’t blame Lehigh for this situation, but is saddened nonetheless with the circumstances. 

Agarwal said the situation is overwhelming, but that it’s just “bad luck” that this year’s senior class was the one to get “caught in all this.”

Though this isn’t how she pictured her on-campus experience at Lehigh ending, Jones said she’ll still cherish the time she had in college.

“The people that I’ve met in these past 3.75 years, they’ve made such an impact on my life, and they’re my life-long friends for an eternity,” Jones said. “It’s hard looking back and realizing that it’s all gone.”

As they prepare to begin online classes,  Kujalowicz and Jones say the shock of this situation has taught them to appreciate the present. 

“I’ve learned that you’re definitely not guaranteed anything,” Jones said. “I’ll probably still be learning this, but (this experience) has reminded me to just take every moment that you have, and make sure you’re present and taking chances  —  knowing you might not get those chances again.”

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