Even a year after COVID-19 rocked the world, college students everywhere are still trying to adjust to a new normal.
Hattiesburg got its first official COVID-19 case in March 2020. Shortly after, classes at the University of Southern Mississippi moved completely online for the rest of the semester. Back then, students were hopeful that, by August 2020, their classes would be shifted back to in-person, with COVID-19 health restrictions in place. However, many students are now still in the midst of a fully online semester.
After the COVID-19 vaccine was released in December 2020, many students once again became hopeful about things returning to normal. But distribution has been slow to keep up with demand. It took another two months before the vaccine was available to Southern Miss nursing students.
Senior Madison Songy was one of the first students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine because of her nursing major.
“My experience getting the vaccine was a very positive one,” said Songy. “As soon as I heard that nursing students were eligible to get the vaccine, I signed up immediately.”
Songy was one of many students eager to get the vaccine. She described her experiences in order for others to figure out what to expect.
“Being able to get a vaccine inside my own car was a very cool experience!” said Songy. “I had some mild side effects after my second dose for a day or two[,] but felt fine other than that. I feel so much more peace knowing that I have an added layer of protection against this virus now, especially since I will be going into the hospital for my final semester of the nursing program in about a month.”
Junior Elementary Education major Chandler Lersch was studying abroad when COVID-19 first flared up. For the past year, Lersch has taken many safety precautions and has yet to get COVID-19. She, too, was thrilled about getting the vaccine.
“My sub teaching job recently sent out an email asking if I wanted to get the vaccine,” Lersch explained. “I said yes and am eager to get the vaccine since my mom has gotten it and she has been fine.”
Lersch also said that, although living through a pandemic has been difficult, she is grateful for the time she was given to grieve over the loss of her twin sister in quarantine.
“There is a part of me that is upset that my college experience is not going as it normally does, but I still do everything I can to help slow the spread,” said Lersch.
Freshman Psychology major Ashley Martin, meanwhile, explained how the pandemic further changed what was already a hectic senior year of high school.
“COVID-19 took away all of the experiences a senior in high school should get,” said Martin. “I was walking out of the door on March 13th to go to my Senior Prom when the lockdown was first announced. My graduation was a drive-thru car parade, and my diploma was mailed to me. I spent my eighteenth birthday in quarantine. I also started my freshman year of college during the middle of the pandemic.”
Martin also said she is hesitant about getting the vaccine due to it being so quickly developed. So far, there have not been enough people vaccinated to figure out whether or not its efficiency.
However, many are still hopeful that the vaccine will bring back some normalcy. The full effects the pandemic had on people psychologically and emotionally are still not yet entirely known, with many still grieving over lost loved ones and struggling with isolation. But Martin, like many throughout this pandemic, believes this year also gave her some positive self-reflection in the midst of intense tragedy.
“I think this past year allowed a lot of people to take time to stop and think about different things life has to offer,” said Martin. “It allowed us all to ‘stop and smell the roses’ instead of going so fast and taking everything for granted.”