From ‘Animal House’ to My Parents’ House: How Covid-19 Turned My Senior Year Upside Down

Shane Sullivan, a senior at Providence College in Rhode Island, on living through a virus outbreak on campus

I used to imagine my senior year would be similar to the 1978 comedy, Animal House. I figured I would ride off into the sunset after a year of loud parties and memories I’d be telling my kids about 40 years from now. My friends and I were supposed to have one last year of freedom living together in our off-campus house named Margaritaville before diving into the working world. Instead? I am currently sitting in the basement of my childhood home after a recent explosion in Covid-19 cases at my school, Providence College.

All students at PC started this semester in-person, back on campus. But the quads normally littered with people playing frisbee and chatting with friends, were left empty. The buzz of the buildings typically packed with people doing work and drinking coffee between classes have been replaced with the silent shuffle of people slipping their masks on, headphones in, and hustling from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

We spent the first few weeks of the semester making the best of it. Stripped of our dining hall, bars, and classrooms, my eight housemates and I found one place to fill each and every one of those roles: our front porch. We have logged more hours on our front porch than I would have previously thought to be possible. We do everything out there: eat, drink, watch sports, people-watch, play games, attend Zoom classes. Yes, one person has even spent the night out there. We talk about politics, our friends, our homework, golf, and the Celtics. On Wednesdays, we treat ourselves to “Midweek Margaritas” where we bring our margarita-makers out front and blare Jimmy Buffet. Our neighbor summed it up best while walking by our house one night: “The Margaritaville porch,” he yelled from six feet away, “I’ve only heard stories about what goes on up there.”

Things weren’t normal, but they were alright. The school had only recorded a handful of positive tests, the majority as people traveled to campus for move-in weekend. Then September 14th hit and everything fell apart.

One by one, my neighbors, and yes, one of my housemates, began testing positive. Our feeling of invincibility, our confidence that PC had cracked the code on how to manage this, was quickly replaced with panic. Everyone frantically began texting friends and housemates with one question in mind: “Is our house going to be infected next?” In just 24 hours, students went from thinking PC was a virus-free bubble to watching our school of 4,000 students become a top story on CNN. With “100 students test positive in just three days” in all caps on the lower third.

The school began working with the state of Rhode Island to organize a response. Classes were all transitioned to Zoom and we were all told to stay home. But the flurry of emails explaining the long term plan had constantly changing directives on how to curb the spread. School work became an afterthought as we made plans to leave our off campus houses and head back to our family homes, or for students from outside the area, to reserved hotel rooms around campus. Rumors spread. Contradictory news from unreliable sources became rampant, and life became a constant question of: “Are we or are we not being forced to leave?” From our front porch, we watched Eaton Street, the buzzing heart of off-campus life, become a ghost town. By Sunday, we were tired of trying to make sense of the chaos and decided just to return home before administrators came knocking at the door.

My mom picked my roommate and me up and we drove windows open and masks on. It was impossible to not feel defeated.
So, now I’m in my parents’ basement, doing classes over Zoom, making the best out of a terrible situation. I’m trying to cherish waking up at 9:28 for my 9:30 a.m. class, never having to leave my bed and grabbing more coffee whenever I want.

So no, my senior year has been absolutely nothing like Animal House (unless I missed the part when John Belushi is infected with a virus at the toga party). We still don’t know when — or if — we’ll return to campus. For now the best I can do is enjoy home-cooked meals and hope for a normal second semester and an in-person graduation, though nothing is guaranteed. I just hope that soon you’ll be able to find us sitting on our porch, sipping margaritas, watching a T.V. connected to three extension cords, doing our best to make this a senior year to remember.

This originally appeared on Medium.