Every college kid in the city has a similar story; one minute, everything was business as usual, and the very next, our lives were being uprooted, our friends sent home, and our futures put on hold.
I’m a senior at Duquesne University, and I was set to graduate in May with a bachelor’s in multi-platform journalism. Now, no one seems to know whether or not commencement will actually happen, and as other universities start to cancel or postpone the ceremony, it’s becoming more and more unlikely that I’ll actually get to walk across the stage with my graduating class. I was the editor-in-chief of our student newspaper, The Duke, which has since been pushed to an online-only publication, forcing us seniors into a tearful farewell, complete with a sense of grave injustice. I was prepping for a prestigious summer internship in New York City, the future of which is now up in the air.
It’s been less than two weeks since Pittsburgh universities made the announcement that they would be facilitating online learning for the duration of the semester, but somehow, it’s managed to feel like months. It’s like we’re all just sitting in some vast and liminal space, waiting for things to return to normal, and secretly wondering if they ever really will.
I don’t live on campus this semester — instead, my roommate and I opted for a small but comfortable South Side apartment — and so, at the very least, we were spared the mad-dash of packing our lives into the back of a truck and moving out on such short notice. But nevertheless, there’s something haunting about the stillness; all the restaurants we used to go to have shut down their seating areas. All the bars we’d meet at are closed. The shelves at Giant Eagle are basically bare. East Carson Street is like a spectral ghost town that not even ghosts can bear to look at.
It feels like the world is ending. Maybe that’s just my penchant for drama, but in earnest, this whole thing feels apocalyptic. Strange, because the weather has been nice by Pittsburgh’s dreary standards, and I’ve always imagined Armageddon would come flanked by storm clouds and distant thunder. Maybe I’ll look back on this in a few months when — and if — it all blows over, and I’ll feel silly for being so fatalistic. But, for the here and the now, it feels life-changing.
I miss going to school. I miss going to the library and to the mall and to restaurants with my family or friends. I miss feeling like I have a future at the end of all this. I miss talking about something else. But we’re making do; life goes on. It has to.
The transition to online education has been easier than I’d expected. Most of my classes use Zoom, which combines video calls, screen-sharing, and text to facilitate discussion. Some professors have started using Slack or GroupMe to keep students updated on modified assignments and syllabi. Aside from a few technical difficulties and slow WiFi causing occasional lag, e-learning has managed to establish some sense of normalcy in an otherwise difficult situation.
Every generation has had something that has made them doubt tomorrow. This is ours. We just have to keep on keeping on — and washing our hands, staying inside when possible, and adhering to all the things the CDC determines will keep the virus from spreading any further, any faster.
To quote Doctor Who’s thirteenth incarnation (because when I’m stressed, I naturally turn to science fiction): “These are the dark times. But they don’t sustain. Darkness never sustains, even though sometimes it feels like it might.”
Ollie Gratzinger is Pittsburgh City Paper's spring reporting intern.