One Year Later

Display case by graduate student offices with calendar for March 2020 (Photo: March 10, 2021)

A year ago — on March 11, 2020 — we were bracing for news of a shift to online remote instruction, confirmation of which came the next day on March 12, 2020. The next days were a rush of planning, with many email communications, phone calls, and text messages as we processed the start of a new normal for our professional and personal lives. 

During the past twelve months, the ECS Building has been much quieter than usual with most faculty and graduate teaching assistants working from other locations. Each day of the past year, I have passed the display case in the photo above as I walk through the ECS basement to check on the building or to unlock or lock common spaces for those few working in the building. Perpetually asking “What’s Happening?” as it offers the month of March 2020, the display case  captures that moment of transition from business as usual (department events, Spring Break) to the sudden arrival of “self-isolation” and COVID-19 life. 

Today’s anniversary and the photo above offer us a moment to look back at the past year through the perspective of three graduate students: Amy Levin Plattner (MA ’21), Mawi Sonna (MA ’21), and Sariah Cheadle (MA ’22). Below are their reflections.

Karin Westman, Department Head

Amy Levin Plattner (MA ’21) channeling her inner Tiger King during the pandemic.

To mark the COVID anniversary, I jumped on the trend of finding the last photo you took before the great lockdown of 2020.

One year ago to the day, March 11, 2020, I got a pedicure with my spouse who was visiting me during Spring Break from Switzerland. I remember us joking about the pandemic shutting down the country so he could stay in Kansas only to find out that same night that the borders were in fact closing. On March 12, 2020, my spouse and I drove 450 miles to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for the Midwest Writing Center Association’s conference where I was set to present. That morning, I received the official email from K-State that Spring Break would last another week but headed off to the conference anyway. The minute I got to the conference hotel, I received the text that it had to be cancelled due to COVID. I laughed at the tragic timing and the weirdness of the world I was suddenly living in.

So, here I am on March 11, 2021 looking at a picture of two sets of pedicured toes: the last symbol of my world unaltered.

What did the feet those toes were attached to do during the past year? One set flew back to Switzerland and served as a medical aid in the Swiss national guard for 3 months. My feet stayed firmly put in Manhattan, KS attached to a worried and overwhelmed graduate student.

To kick off my quarantine I alternated between watching the news with my parents and the entire True Blood series. The SAGE Shrek Prom was cancelled. I tried to study sometimes. Eventually, I found a footing on the new, uneven ground.

One of the first things I learned was how to slow way down. Working consistently every day simply wasn’t what my brain wanted to do, and that was okay. I did things like film Tiger King inspired intros to my students with my mom. Sometimes I pretended my coffee maker was Radina’s, and I turned my family’s basement into “Amy Lou’s Parlor” when my brother could not celebrate the notorious Fake Patty’s during his senior year at K-State.

The days went by and by the fall nothing had really changed. I missed my cohort and we weren’t all together for the SAGE Welcome Back Party to kick off the semester. We found small ways to make community, and I was thankful for the strong bond we had as a group.

Over the past year, I felt like I was pulling myself out of quicksand a lot of days, but I had victories, too. My loved ones and I are okay, my brother graduated from K-State, my spouse immigrated to the United States in November, and I eventually presented at two writing center conferences.

It’s 2021, and today I painted my own toenails.

— Amy Levin Plattner (MA ’21)

Mawi Sonna’s desk with a pandemic bouquet of dried flowers from the course of this past year (“New hobby!”) (Photo: March 11, 2021)

Despite how challenging the pandemic has made everyday life, one thing it has allowed me to do is get creative and connect with others in different ways.

I found myself taking time to go back to painting (paint by number — it’s tedious but rewarding) and calling old friends now living in different parts of the country I otherwise might have never reconnected with prior to the pandemic. However, I also found myself needing to practice better self care after a neck cramp that lasted for a week! Yet, it was good to laugh about it with friends via Zoom, and also share some fun features like a Zoom beret to add to the virtual experience.

As I look back on the last few months, I sometimes forget to remember that they were truly hard but also the importance of staying connected to others. I’m grateful for my community even if it’s taken on a new form!

— Mawi Sonna (MA ’21)

An anniversary cake baked by Sariah Cheadle (MA ’22) (Photo: March 11, 2021)

I shared the attached image in our grad school chat: I made a cake to “celebrate” one year of the declared pandemic. We even sang Happy Birthday. It was oddly…nostalgic? Sentimental? Affirming? Not sure. But it was surprisingly nice.

— Sariah Cheadle (MA ’22)

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