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How students are finding unexpected joys in the time of COVID-19

Olivia Frenkel

Staff writer

As students either approach or pass their one month marker of sheltering in place, it’s easy to point out how much life has changed and perhaps even easier to point out the negative changes. Friends who expected months together are now miles apart, passion for research and projects was left behind in labs and classrooms and toilet paper is now more difficult to find than a nutria. Though the weight of these life changes can feel the largest, students have also found unexpected joys in everything from baby ducks to reconnecting with old friends to taking baths.

One commonality that students emphasized is the strength of their support systems. Monica Gustaveson (‘21) was hesitant to move back in with her parents after studying abroad and living on her own for so long. 

“I wasn’t expecting to need them as much as I did when I came back. For example, my mom made me print out different calendars and she color coded them for each class, so I’d stay on top of everything,” Gustaveson said. 

She also explained that this love and guidance extends beyond her family and to her close friends as well. 

“The other day, my friend Venmoed [digitally sent] me $12 and told me to Postmate some ice cream for myself, and those little things make the biggest difference in feeling connected to people,” she said.

A popular quarantine pastime is cooking and baking. Oliver Kushen (‘23) and William Nordham (‘23) have both found happiness in experimenting in the kitchen. 

“I’ve been baking a lot of pies and desserts, but more recently, I recreated the Bistro snickerdoodle cookies, which was really fun and a little nostalgic,” said Kushen. 

Nordham’s time in the kitchen has also been enjoyable, yet was self-described as “frequently disastrous.” He explained in good humor, “I tried replacing strawberries with apples for a strawberry cake recipe. It went completely wrong and the filling was just grainy applesauce.” 

Students who live on campus, like Layla Hughes (‘23), are also able to find happiness in the small things. 

“Over time I started noticing the super tiny things like the sky or the flowers blooming,” she said. “I genuinely look forward to the sunset every day and the baby ducks make me so happy.” 

She also finds joy in the new relationships she has been able to form. “The people still working in Goudy know my name now, and they always say hi and will compliment my outfit. It’s a connection that I didn’t expect to make, but I’m grateful I did.”

Isabella Lamb (‘22) stayed at Willamette for as long as possible, but found that living at home has had its perks. “The weather has been really nice [in the Bay Area], so I go outside as much as I can to sit or do homework,” she said. She has also found cooking with her family and cleaning her own space to be both productive and fulfilling. 

“I’ve also found that taking baths has also been really relaxing and enjoyable. People who live on campus obviously can’t take baths, so that is definitely something I look forward to when I’m home,” she said.

Other students, such as Brian Peck (‘20), have found themselves connecting and reconnecting with old friends and family. 

“I’ve gotten to know my distant family a lot more,” said Peck, “We’ve been having big family Zoom meetings that wouldn’t have been possible if everyone wasn’t in quarantine.”

As living situations change, people everywhere have gained new housemates or have returned to living with family members. Kelley Dyer (‘22) recently moved into her sister’s house, who is a senior at Willamette living in Salem. 

“This is her last year before she moves on to bigger, steadier jobs, and she’s looking into a few on the east coast, so we’ve been able to really spend some quality time before she goes off into the world,” she said. The pair cook and watch TV together in their free time. 

“We are super into mug cakes too,” said Dyer, laughing. “They are getting so good, like each night they get better and better.”

It’s important to remember that though some find joy in the rain, there are others with leaks in their roofs and cracks in their walls. Happiness during this time is beautiful and necessary, yet it is still a privilege to have, so do what you can to support yourself, your family, friends and communities, because everyone deserves to experience some semblance of joy.

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