It has been just over a year since Governor Phil Murphy declared the statewide stay-at-home order for New Jersey. Schools and universities went all virtual, businesses closed down, and gatherings were prohibited indefinitely. No one had in mind what exactly we were going to face, and now here we are. Nothing has truly gone back to ‘normal’ yet, but we asked a few students and faculty members to reflect on what the past year has been like or what it taught them. Here is a collection of how they have felt since that first quarantine week of March 16, 2020.
Megan O’Neill, PhD, Assistant Professor of Humanities:
“Personally, the most surprising and satisfying part of the last year was spending 8 weeks with my family in Virginia. In early April I returned to the home I grew up in, not for a vacation or specific event, but to “live.” It had been basically 20 years since I had been home for anything more than a few weeks over summer or winter holidays. What started out as a safe respite from NYC became an amazing way to reconnect with my family. It’s not often adults have nothing to do! I made lovely dinners with my mom (after frantically washing all the groceries in the sink), got my step-sister into Survivor reruns, and built a backyard fire pit with my younger brother. Most importantly, I got to know my niece (1.5) and nephew (3) in a way I never would have been able to pre-pandemic. We read books, took walks, looked out the window naming trees and birds, and grew our own butterflies from caterpillars. It was a magical time in the middle of such scary chaos. I slowed down, and I will forever be grateful for that strange, unexpected opportunity.”
Neha Shirwalker, Computer Science (’24)
“This is a little poem I wrote in quarantine about how I used my imagination to distract myself from everything that was contributing to my unhappiness. Over quarantine, I became overly self-aware about certain aspects in my life that I didn’t have control over, but wished were different. This poem is meant to give a glimpse of what I imagine a happy life is. But when my imagination comes to end, I’m even more aware that there’s no escaping from the world that already exists. In this poem, the black hole represents feeling completely lost and hopeless, with motivation left in life. Personifying innocence represents the last feelings of hope.”
I rewrote an entire storyline
of the life I wish I had lived,
painting the vivid colors of laughter
and adventure I aspired for
There was always someone there for me
with their warm arms extended,
to accompany me at the sunrise
over the rolling parakeet fields
In that world I was always content
Not a day was there where I stumbled
into the unforgiving black hole,
where people went when they were depressed
I could rely on the people I loved
to hold me back tightly
So if I ever got too close,
they would pull me right back up
But then I wake up from my imagination,
back to this painful reality,
where people shred each other to pieces
to rise from others’ calamities
A piece of my innocence still holding on,
afraid it will float way in the polluted winds,
created by malevolent people
I used to hide from under my bed
Mark Pothen, Business Manager, Mechanical Engineering (’22)
“Reality is a crooked, everything is an illusion, we are just lambs to the cosmic slaughter”
Sreya Das, Web and Multimedia Editor, Computer Science (’22)
“There are a lot of things I miss about the pre-pandemic world. I miss the days where classmates were more than rectangles on a screen, being able to physically attend a professor’s office hours, and just the general atmosphere of NJIT. As a resident, I also miss living on campus, seeing my roommate every day, and sharing meals with friends. It has now been over a year since I’ve stayed on campus, and I miss everyone dearly.
However, there are some silver linings. With things being online, I was able to become more involved with activities that previously conflicted with my schedule. For example, I went to my first ACM meeting in Fall 2020, and now I am part of the E-Board; previously the meetings would conflict with The Vector and Nucleus Yearbook meetings. Additionally, the pandemic has truly emphasized virtual connections, which has the advantage of enabling friendships that otherwise may not have occurred. I think I met just as many new people virtually during the pandemic as I did during my first semester of freshman year, primarily through Discord.
I’m optimistic for the fall semester, when I will hopefully be back on campus. Once it is safe to do so, I look forward to both reuniting with old friends and meeting the new friends I’ve made online.”
Sandra Raju, Executive Editor, Biomedical Engineering (’22)
“As the Executive Editor for The Vector and the Events Coordinator for NJIT Red Cross League, I have gotten to see the ups and downs that were brought with the past two semesters being almost completely virtual. Discord has proven to be an organized and effective communication platform for clubs to easily relay information about meetings and events, as well as recruitment. However, I can’t say that it has been an exceptional breakthrough for every organization. While The Vector Discord has made relaying assignments and deadlines amongst the executive board and general staff members much easier and has allowed for engagement amongst members, I can’t say that I have seen the same amount of engagement amongst members in the NJIT Red Cross League’s Discord channels. This of course is not indicative of the success of NJIT Red Cross League, for we have had many engaging and successful events despite the hindering circumstances of navigating solely through a virtual world, but it is much harder in the shoes of smaller clubs to grab the attention and the participation of the student body. Certain incentives such as gift cards, prizes, and/or volunteer hours are usually needed during events in order to have a higher probability of students attending. This past year, COVID-19 has forced change upon students, forcing us to adapt to a consistently experimental environment. I’m sure that most would agree that for many clubs though there were some significant downsides to the virtual environment, there were some silver linings that came with it. However, these silver linings were unfortunately not something everyone was able to experience.”
Evan Markowitz, Computer Science (’22)
“If I had to use one word to describe the last twelve months, I would choose ‘weird.’ Obviously the pandemic has had a huge impact on many of us, but it happened to coincide with me simultaneously stepping away from almost all of my extracurricular responsibilities, so the pandemic-induced stress has almost been countered by the sudden freedom! That said, despite the net-zero stress level, I definitely would say that I miss a lot about pre-pandemic life. Not seeing my friends in-person has definitely been a bummer, but I am absolutely looking forward to seeing those who haven’t graduated when many of us return in Fall 2021. Additionally, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I am missing the classroom. While I know that the entire university has worked hard to make online learning work well, I just have a hard time learning at home. Kudos to those who can do it, but I’m excited to return to an in-person classroom.”
Ethan O’Malley, Photography Editor, Mathematical Sciences (’23)
“I think that one of the positive highlights of the year is the flexibility that online classes provided. If I needed to be at home I could take my classes from there, if I needed to meet up with someone to do something I could take my classes from there, or I could stay on campus and just take my classes in my room. The freedom that provided was definitely nice. On the other hand I really miss the on campus events that we had last year. Because of all the photography that I was doing I was attending a lot of those events and they were all really fun experiences and made me feel more connected to campus. While there are a host of online events, it really doesn’t feel the same. I really can’t wait till we can get back to large in person events.”
Katherine Ji, Managing Editor, Biology (’21)
“There’s been some good: the satisfyingly long spring break, the forced but secretly necessary family time, the fun I’ve found in the dozens of books I’ve read and dipping my toes into writing fiction. I enjoy work in advocacy, so I was inspired by the initial sense of collective society to beat this pandemic and the confusion surrounding it together.
But while some memories of quarantine are nostalgic, the rest have been mercilessly exhausting.
The most tiring part of it all has been that COVID-19 simply does not discriminate, and it does not forgive. It takes and kills and keeps on going.
When I broke down crying and wanted to visit my best friend for help, I couldn’t without also having to worry about those in my little COVID-19 bubble. When I was overwhelmed and needed a break, I couldn’t necessarily hop on a train with friends to the city to do something spontaneous. When I think about my family, I worry about their safety doubly, both in being exposed to COVID-19 as well as the permanent stain of racism the pandemic has left on the Asian community.
By now, even after getting the vaccine, the end is so difficult to picture. ‘Together’ is now so foreign and the time ‘after the pandemic’ so hazy. Between the cycles of hope and frustration, I can only offer myself forgiveness and welcome the eventual surprise of what we once called ‘normal life.’”
Daniil Ivanov, Editor-in-Chief, EMT, Biochemistry (’21)
One year ago, I found myself coming into work on the weekend as an EMT. I had been working in EMS for almost five years at that point, but it felt like the rug was pulled out from under us and nobody knew what was going on anymore. It felt like every day there was another email being sent out by supervisors about protocol changes as the national and state guidelines were modified.
In school, it felt like syllabus week in the middle of the semester with professors telling us how the remainder of the class will be taught, and with every professor and department having only one week to prepare the class it was a different experience for every class.
It was a confusing time. It was a stressful time. I was being taught by a computer but didn’t feel like I was learning. I was being told by the TV that I’m a hero, but I would come home feeling like a threat to my family.
One year later, there’s understanding. I feel like we know what we’re dealing with, the protocols are steady and the path to the end seems straightforward — maybe even close. Seeing someone not wearing a mask, even in a movie, feels weird and dirty. Hand sanitizer and my Aveeno lotion right after are a normal routine. At this point, I’ve been vaccinated for a while, and the majority of people that I know are also either fully or partially vaccinated or have their vaccine scheduled. One year later this is the new normal.