April 14, 2020

Scholar Voices: My road to graduation amidst COVID-19

As I packed the rest of my belongings for spring break, I crafted a vision in my head of my final semester at Skidmore College: sun-bathing on the Case Green, fun nights spent downtown with friends, presenting my senior thesis at Academic Festival, weekend trips into town for brunch, late-night crams at Scribner Library and so many more treasured “lasts,” as I got ready to move on with the rest of my life.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my final moments on campus would be taken away and I would move out two months earlier than expected. During spring break, Skidmore College followed several other universities across the United States and the world in announcing it would be moving to remote instruction for the rest of the semester in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In a matter of seconds, the remainder of my undergraduate experience was taken away and I had no control over it. Amongst the various thoughts running through my mind, I felt conflicted. Was I being ungrateful? Were my feelings of loss selfish? Why was I so wrapped up in the thought of giving up some superficial events — weekly 90 Day Fiancé viewings and Sunday dinners with friends, the first day of Senior Week and the last goodbyes to my favorite professors, sunsets shared with my housemates and commencement celebrations soon to be shared with my family—when there are people in this world experiencing hardships brought on by the Coronavirus that are much worse? That day, I toiled over these complicated feelings and this overwhelming sense of loss.

Kelly and her friends gather for Sunday dinner, a weekly tradition during their time at Skidmore College.

When I least expected it, but needed it the most, Alma Guiterrez, of TGR Foundation’s Earl Woods Scholar staff, called me that night to check in. Before I could say anything, I started to cry for what felt like the tenth time that day. There was a sense of safety and comfort in hearing Alma’s voice as I expressed my conflicted feelings on the semester ending. In the midst of my tears, Alma assured me that my feelings of loss were validated and that the universe really needs to test our resilience sometimes.

These are not normal times. It is okay to feel robbed of an important time in our lives and to feel completely unsure of what the next few months will look like for us. It is okay to feel all of these things because there is no right way to get through the emotional impacts of a shut-down society. Most importantly, she pointed out that I was not alone in this time: the entire Earl Woods Scholar Program team and TGR Foundation family were present to support me in whatever ways I needed.

Kelly and her Earl Woods Scholar cohort gather for a photo during their last Winter Workshop in January of 2020 after celebrating their upcoming graduation.

It has been difficult to see my college career and that of others coming to an end so suddenly. As the situation evolved, I was able to leave Saratoga Springs and move back home. Now, I wait it out in the Bronx, trying to make sense of the rest of my senior year, including commencement.

The culmination of four years, commencement, is more than just the photos and the piece of paper with my name on it. As a first-generation student, commencement represents a celebration of both my parents’ accomplishments and my own. In the presence of thousands of people at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, my parents would hear my name being called and see me walk across the stage, opening a door to a world full of infinitely greater possibilities for my future that they did not have access to. In that moment, every one of my successes would become theirs.

Though this chapter of my life is ending in unexpected ways, Skidmore College is a place that I hold close to my heart. I was given the freedom to explore, change and develop my interests and passions. It is the place where I spent the better of four years growing into the person that I am today.

Kelly highlights her major near a bulletin board at Skidmore College before returning home to complete her undergraduate career through distance learning as a result of the global Coronavirus Pandemic.

In May, I will be graduating from Skidmore College with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with minors in Intergroup Relations and Education Studies. In September, I will be attending Teacher’s College at Columbia University to pursue my Master’s in Education in the Sociology and Education program. Though this was never the way I imagined closing out my undergraduate experience, my time at Skidmore is not defined by this particular moment in time, but rather by the people that I have met, the memories I have created and the challenges that I have overcome.


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The Earl Woods Scholar Program is funded through support from TGR Live Events, State Street, Farmers Insurance, Aptive Environmental and Bank of the West. Join us to support more students like Kelly on their path to college and career success. Click here to learn more and donate today.