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Health, Science & Environment

Graduating Ohio State seniors reflect on experiencing college during pandemic

There's probably no better place to get the feel for student life then the Ohio Union. It's where I met graduating senior Rebecca Kemper as she takes a break from working on her marketing capstone project.

"It affected me in probably the biggest way possible," Kemper said as she reflected on her first year on campus and its unexpected end.

"You're actively trying to adapt to this new college lifestyle, and then to be kind of kicked out of that and uprooted was definitely a major change, and then not only to be uprooted but then to adjust to a new learning style," Kemper said.

It's been four years since the Ohio State graduating class of 2023 became Buckeyes.

What started as a dream quickly took a sharp turn when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and students were sent home in March 2020 to quarantine after spending only seven months in college. And it's colored their entire time on campus.

Graduating senior Ellen Coffey is among those receiving their degrees May 7. She echoed those feelings of COVID-19 shaping her experience in the classroom and ultimately her entire college career.

"Ever since the COVID pandemic, I haven't had a semester where I've had all of my classes in person, I've had online classes ever since then. And my freshman year that was something I didn't even really know, like I didn't even know that online classes really existed or that that was even an option," Coffey said.

When students were able to be on campus, they often had to wear masks and keep their distance, which was far from the traditional college experience.

Those COVID-19 protocols that colored much of the first two years of the pandemic also increased concerns about students' mental health.

Ohio State's Senior Vice President of Student Life Melissa Shivers said anxiety continues to be the most pressing issue in counseling sessions. She said there's been an uptick in depression since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and 55% of students reported experiencing loneliness.

"They really missed opportunities to be in-person, to have those conversations with their peers, to have face-to-face interactions with their professors. Students were incredibly resilient during this time," Shivers said.

Shivers said just because the world is moving onto the endemic phase, that does not mean the effects of the pandemic are in the past.

The number one issue for graduates in the workforce who experienced COVID during college is social interaction. Students just did not have a normal four years on campus.

"As students graduate from Ohio State they've missed two years of how to build a social network and how to be connected. How are we going to help them over those next two years to be prepared to go out in a workforce and know how to interact face to face," Shivers said.

Alongside the pandemic, students have also faced a changing economy with a steeply-rising cost of living.

As Coffey prepares for the job market, she said the state of the economy and financial pressures have become more of a reality in her life than ever before.

"This is really the first time in my life that I've been really conscious of inflation. I've heard that word my whole life, but it didn't matter when I was 10. I see the grocery prices increase. I see the gas prices increase. I'm so much more conscious of it now, and it definitely is scary," Coffey said.

While the past four years have come with unexpected changes and adjustments, Shivers said graduating seniors learn from them and like every class, move on to make the world a better place.

"Hopefully we don't forget, and it helps to make us a stronger community and certainly one that is more accessible and supportive of all of our students, faculty and staff," Shivers said.

Health, Science & Environment Ohio StateCOVID-19 pandemic