It seems that almost every Cornell University senior will remember where they were and what they were doing on Friday, March 13, when they found out that in-person instruction had ended, the next three weeks of school were cancelled, and the likely potential that normal senior traditions would not be happening as usual. (“It was Friday the 13th, I should have known,” joked Caitlin Stanton). Three months later, several students reflected on their final moments on campus as undergraduates and what it was like leaving in such an unprecedented way.
After receiving the first email from Cornell on Tuesday, which had stated in-person classes were going to be cancelled after spring break, Stanton originally thought the email was a joke.
“I thought somebody had replicated the Cornell letterhead,” she said. After confirming that the email was real, she and her friends decided to walk to the Arts Quad because there were “a bunch of people screaming.”
“It sounded like fun,” she said.
Although Stanton knew she would be returning to Cornell for graduate school in the fall, she stated it was still hard to say goodbye to friends, not knowing when she would see them again.
“That initial weekend was a flurry of goodbyes,” she said. “It was very strange because we had a couple of days where everything was happening and then three weeks of nothing. I was like ‘I’d rather be doing problem sets than sitting here and knitting a scarf.’”
However, during those final days where everyone was still on campus, Stanton also stated that she “had never felt prouder of Cornell [than] at that time.”
“I obviously don’t know the entire senior class but it was cool to see everyone being like ‘We just want to enjoy [these last moments] on our terms,’” she said. “If we were going to leave, it was because we decided to, and that was really heartwarming.”
Arjun Pillai Hausner, who graduated in the fall but was planning on returning for the spring graduation ceremony, had a very different experience. He is currently in the San Juan Islands as a project manager for Cornell’s CORALS program, which he was a participant in 2018. Although the students in the program were sent home in March, he stayed and conducted classes from the island.
“Being out here is pretty awesome,” he said, showing the view from his desk.
When Pillai Hausner left in the fall, he had originally planned on returning in the spring to say goodbye to everyone, even though he had never thought much about the actual ceremony. In fact, it was only until the day that graduation was supposed to happen that he realized he was actually quite “bummed out” about not getting to have that final celebration.
“I wasn’t excited about the ceremony itself, but I was excited to see everyone together,” he said.
“It was having my friends meet my parents. It was going to be a chance to see my friends because I won’t see them in one place again. It was weird how I didn’t realize that until the day of.”
Amrit Hingorani had a similar realization as the graduation date got closer.
“I never was super excited about graduation […] but as [the date] started getting closer, I realized now I kind of want it, really badly,” he said. “Maybe that feeling would have just happened anyway with it getting closer. Maybe it was now that I can’t have it—that one last hurrah with all my close friends.”
Hingorani, who participated in a wide variety of different extracurriculars, vividly remembers receiving the Friday email and immediately afterwards going to his last paintball practice.
“I had just found out I was seeing [some of my teammates] for the last time, potentially ever,” he said.
However, Hingorani said one upside was that it was nice to not have as busy of a schedule and to get to “take advantage of Ithaca” for a few months before leaving. He went hiking at the Buttermilk Falls Trails, had social-distanced picnics with his friends, and went to Cayuga Lake to talk with a professor “about life and the future.”
“Having a two month cool down to experience Ithaca and not really be running like a chicken with no head to paintball and frisbee to lab, it gave me a decent time to say bye,” Hingorani said.
However, a few days after he left Ithaca in May, Hingorani found out he had gotten a one-year position in a Cornell lab and would be returning in the fall.
“I was finally ready to say goodbye to Cornell," he said, “and now I know I have to do it all over again.”