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Monday, May 29, 2023

Senior Week in March: Covid-19 truncates seniors' final semester

<span class="photocreditinline"><a href="">VAN BARTH</a></span><br />Seniors trekked to the football field for the time-honored tradition of watching the sunrise the day of graduation. But this time, no one was graduating.
Seniors trekked to the football field for the time-honored tradition of watching the sunrise the day of graduation. But this time, no one was graduating.

Last Tuesday, a leaked email announcing Middlebury’s move to remote learning spread like wildfire across campus. Before most students could process the possibility of campus shutting down, a few seniors had already begun to organize an impromptu “senior week” of festivities to recognize this year’s graduating class — one that would take place in mid-March, instead of May.

Within an hour, an event titled “SENIOR WEEK” had appeared on Facebook.

As responsible seniors, we have decided to take things into our own hands this week to ensure that we fulfill our seniorly duties before departing from Middlebury,” read the Facebook event’s description, penned by Tatum Braun ’20.

Close to 500 Middlebury students — with nearly 600 seniors in the Class of 2020 — eventually joined the private event on Facebook. She had no idea it would get so big.

“At that point, I just knew I wanted to make the last few days on campus count,” Braun said, “especially since most of my friends are not returning to Middlebury in the fall.”

Within the first six hours after the event’s creation, 20 students had posted suggestions of events and places for the senior class to get together. One of the first posts pointed out that Two Brothers, a local tavern and bar, opened at 3 p.m., suggesting seniors meet there. By 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the now-ubiquitous “2019.75” graduation year was used as a hashtag on the event page for the first time.

Senior events initially proved difficult to organize. Emotions and logistics collided with anxiety over the abrupt end of the semester. Yet by Wednesday, there were final a cappella concerts and seniors posting “crush lists” on the bulletin board outside Proctor dining hall. Traditions coalesced in their time-honored Senior Week form.

The day of the announcement, Evolution Dance Crew was slated to have a tech rehearsal for its upcoming show. Instead, members gathered to talk through the emotional tumult that accompanied the decision. Someone at the meeting suggested finding an alternative way to showcase all the work the group had been putting in since the first week of J-Term.

The result? A Thursday flash mob on Proctor Terrace.

Evolution Dance Crew held an impromptu flash mob after getting word of the campus's closure early last week.

“We didn’t really do much advertising — it was mostly word of mouth between friends — and we chose a time where Proctor is usually full so people walking by would see it,” said Evolution Co-President Abla Laallam ’20. Laallam is one of the eight seniors in Evolution.

“The word of the week was ‘processing,’” said Jack Litowitz ’20, a senior and the treasurer of the Senior Committee. “It’s hard to even feel sad or happy when you’re in shock. But despite that, we filled the week.”

On Saturday morning, many seniors trekked to the football field to watch the sunrise — a time-honored Senior Week tradition. They held a flag that bore “2019.75” for photos.

In hindsight, some seniors fear that the turbulent week — filled with “high highs and low lows,” according to Litowitz — may have flouted the CDC’s recommendations of avoiding large gatherings.

"I am a bit regretful looking back for starting a group that seemed to encourage drinking during days when Covid-19 was already significant,” Braun said. “But I had no idea the group would become so big, and I just wanted to make the final days at Midd as positive as possible.”

Student festivities may have been partially responsible for vandalism that occurred on and off campus toward the end of last week. Some of the destruction occurred at Two Brothers Thursday “College Night,” which is typically made up of majority seniors. 

Although the college has promised to re-evaluate the public health crisis in early April, many seniors fear they will not return this spring.

Evolution Dance Crew members embraced after their likely last performance of the year: a flash mob on Proctor terrace.

Yet members of the Senior Committee — the eight seniors and two administrators responsible for events during students’ final year at Middlebury — remain optimistic.

“Seeing so many schools out-right cancel graduation is making me grateful for Middlebury,” Julia Sinton ’20.5, one of the Committee members, said. “We’re not a 30,000-person state school. That makes it possible to be a little more flexible in last-minute planning.”

As of now, all of the college’s reservations, catering bookings, and plans for Senior Week remain intact. It is also possible that the originally planned week, slated for May 19–24, could be postponed. But members of the committee are also aware of how the situation is “in flux.”

Until the Senior Committee receives the official word from President Laurie Patton that commencement cannot take place due to Covid-19, its members will continue to plan. “For now, it’s business as usual,” Litowitz said.

It’s difficult to imagine a postponed celebration topping the collective spirit and ingenuity that characterized this month’s improvised iteration. Seniors seized the fleeting week to celebrate the end of their truncated college career — all 3.75 years of it.

“The whole week was marked by an unbelievable coming together of students,” Litowitz said. “Not once was there an event this week where there was a guest list.”