Last fall at Castleton University, Professor David Blow tried something different in his Media Writing class, asking his students to write a biweekly blog. The result is a published book, “Covid Chronicles.”
“Life is tough for everyone during this pandemic, but college students are losing so much of that sacred experience,” Blow wrote in his dedication, “and my goal through this project was to provide them with a needed win.”
The students rose to the occasion, using the assignment to process a set of experiences that were both diverse and universal, common to students anywhere in 2020.
Over the course of the semester the blog posts also documented the students’ evolution as writers.
Lily Doton is a media and communications major whose powerful editorial about anti-Asian racism appeared earlier this spring in the Castleton Spartan and on VTDigger. “I didn’t see myself as much of a storyteller prior to taking this class,” she wrote in an email, “but I think ‘Covid Chronicles’ helped me find a voice in writing that I’ve used to work through other difficult feelings.”
Publication gave special meaning to the students’ work. “It wasn’t just for a grade anymore; it was a way for us as individuals to create some kind of connection with the rest of the community,” wrote Aurora Calchera-Champine.
The book’s cover was a collaboration between one of Professor Blow’s students, Jasmin Gomez, who created the faceless graduate, and the son of Blow’s mailman, Anthony Richichi, who created the student sketches.
“It’s a nice credit to have your work published,” Marty Kelly wrote. “The book is a nice example of how far the faculty and staff here go for students.”
In the book’s foreword, Blow described his own challenges through the pandemic, as a father and as a classroom teacher adapting to remote instruction. He spoke for many teachers this year when he thanked his students for their work:
“I tell anybody who asks ‘how’s all online teaching going?’ that you guys are lifting me up and inspiring me with the power of your words and how you’re putting them together.”
A sampling of the students’ blog posts is below, with Professor Blow’s introductory remarks.
“Covid Chronicles” is available at Phoenix Books (in Rutland and soon in Burlington) as well as on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.
“Lily’s first blog in this series was a major spark for the idea to publish ‘Covid Chronicles’ into a book. As a Vermonter of Asian descent, she has a very different take on Covid-19 and the blame game that ensued — even in Vermont. Her subsequent entries were equally powerful and well-written, detailing the dog days of the pandemic,” wrote Blow.
He’s the light
By Lily Doton
At 12:45 a.m. on Oct. 1, my older sister finally had her baby.
When I woke up and saw the texts, a sense of relief rushed through my body. Everything went well.
It has been scary to see her pregnant during a global pandemic, and I’ve been at least a little bit on edge about it every day since Covid grew worse. We’re in a fairly safe state, but the anxiety over it would not go away.
When my oldest brother and his wife had their first baby, I was able to rush to Connecticut and see him in the hospital. That wasn’t possible this time — my sister’s husband was the only one allowed in the room with her.
But baby Benen is finally here, and everyone is safe.
Benen is an Irish name that means “kind and benevolent” and I can already tell that it’s perfect for him.
My sister Annie and I got the chance to FaceTime this afternoon so she could show me his tiny, sleepy face. As soon as we hung up, I burst into tears.
Tears of joy, excitement, relief.
I could tell she was tired, but so, so happy.
I’m not sure when I’ll be able to hold him, unmasked, and freely kiss his forehead, but any disappointment I may have over that is washed away when I look at the pictures Annie has sent me.
In a time that has been extremely dark, it feels like he is the light.
“Rielly’s post about his grandmother contracting Covid-19 brought a new reality to the class and to the assignment. Rielly also brought a conversational writing style that made you feel his fear of the disease in a subsequent post,” wrote Blow.
When Covid hit home
By Rielly Johnson
Waking up the day the pandemic started was like waking up in an alternate dimension. You see movies and read history books about past pandemics, but they’ve always just been exactly that: history.
No one I know was expecting Covid-19 to have the effect it did, and no one expected they would ever be able to catch it. For a while, it was hard to even grasp that it was real and actually happening.
Quarantine was difficult, and the masks were annoying at first, but it wasn’t until June 13 that my family really had to face Covid-19.
My grandmother called my mom that morning to announce she had tested positive for coronavirus. I first remember the feeling in my chest, like something was holding on to me and squeezing just enough to make it harder to breathe, but not enough to take my breath away entirely.
I had seen the news. I had read all the articles: Covid-19 affected the elderly far worse than it would affect me. It was natural for me to start thinking of the worst possible outcomes when the world was losing its collective mind over this.
For days, it was a waiting game. She’d been quarantined at her local hospital, and we were unable to see her for a long time, which made the waiting all that much more unbearable.
My extended family gathered together for group calls a few times, just to talk and distract ourselves from the heaping amount of worry we felt for my grandmother. A week or so later, we received another call from her.
My grandmother sounded ecstatic.
The virus had passed, and she was OK.
“Jacob is a big, burly football player who opened up to the class through these blogs about what the coronavirus did to his already fragile mental state. One of the most positive moments to come out of this ‘Covid Chronicles’ assignment happened during a discussion of that week’s entries when he told the class how valuable the assignment was to help his deteriorating mental state. He also often detailed worrying about his mom,” wrote Blow.
Covid-19, mom and depression
By Jacob Gonzalez
Home in March?
Who would’ve thought I would be on my way home for the last time during this spring semester? It didn’t feel right walking into my house so soon, but I was very happy to see my mom.
My mom is a very important person in my life. When I first left for college, I was very homesick for a lot of reasons, but I was mainly sad about leaving my mom for the first time for such a long time.
My mom and I have a special relationship. She has taken care of me for basically my whole life. You could say I’m a little bit of a mama’s boy and I probably wouldn’t disagree with you.
Arriving with a big hug and the sensational smell of snickerdoodle cookies, my favorite, I was very happy to be home.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
My mom’s insulin pump was going off yet again, screaming at her that her sugar was low. As usual, I ran to the end of the hallway to grab her a juice box while she pricked her finger to test her blood.
My mom has been a Type 1 diabetic since she was 7 years old. Throughout the years, she had to deal with the hardships of being a diabetic by sticking a needle in her finger every day, staying on a consistent diet and — the worst of all — enduring a weak immune system.
Her weak immune system has put her in the hospital multiple times and it has always been a worry for me. Seeing my own mother being rushed out of the house because of a simple cold has always stuck with me to make sure I’m keeping her safe at any cost.
And coronavirus was another obstacle we had to face.
After studies came out showing that Type 1 diabetics are at high risk of dying when getting the coronavirus, my mom had to be careful. So after only one week of being home, I was officially quarantined, since I had to stay inside to protect my mom.
I fully understood why I couldn’t go see my friends, but I was the only one out of my friend group who had to be quarantined.
At first, I didn’t mind being stuck inside every hour, but soon enough, I started to feel alone. With all this time to myself, I started to become depressed. Overthinking one thing after another, my mind was filled with negative thoughts.
My depression and anxiety had come back yet again, taking over my body in a way I’ve never experienced before.
“Adrianna got ripped from studying abroad in Meknès, Morocco, in the spring semester to return to her northern Vermont home, where she would hole up with her parents and two equally worldly sisters. She often wrote cleverly crafted, reflective blogs about being thankful, and about family. But she is also a master of sarcastic one-liners, like in her blog about doing pandemic puzzles,” Blow wrote.
Pandemic pushes us all back under one roof
By Adrianna Maher
Covid-19 became the cause of family reunions worldwide; my family was no exception.
I returned home in mid-March from my study abroad being cut short. In the few weeks following my return, my two older sisters made the decision to come back to Vermont as well.
For two weeks, it was just me and my parents.
Then it was time to pick up one sister flying in from California at the airport. A few weeks after that, we drove halfway between Burlington and New York City to grab my eldest sister. By April, our house was full again, much to our mother’s delight.
We hadn’t truly lived together since 2013, after my eldest sister graduated high school. I won’t lie; I slightly dreaded what might happen living with my sisters again. We can get on each other’s nerves like no one else. I was afraid of endless bickering and being constantly confined in the same house.
Then the unexpected happened. We actually lived in peace for three months. I still do not know how we managed that. Of course, there were a few comments and tiffs here and there. But nothing too extreme.
Covid-19 gave our family this wonderful time together. It is one of the only positives I can find as a result of these circumstances. We would have never had this time together without the shutdown.
They have since moved back to their lives in separate states. Life moves on even in the midst of a pandemic.
But this summer will always hold a special place in my heart, even though it was the furthest thing from how I saw it going back in January.
“Lance came to the media writing class through the college STEPS program for students with varying abilities. He always had a pretty upbeat tone and could be counted on to talk about pro wrestling, Sonic the Hedgehog and student radio in most posts. In his first entry, he spoke briefly about how the pandemic didn’t really impact him, then said, ‘What I really want to talk about is my experience with WWE Thunderdome.’ He was also pretty psyched to return to off-campus apartment living, though, and often offered boiled-down logic about the pandemic,” wrote Blow.
No other choice
By Lance Robinson
Back during my time at college before Covid-19, I used to just go to baseball games, football games and basketball games. Everything was so amazing, being in a classroom, going to watch a play, going to karaoke nights and everything.
I was so amazed. Just going to the Campus Center to talk with friends was fun.
I enjoyed everything at college.
Everyone used to sit next to each other in the Campus Center, but now some chairs are all taped up with signs telling you not to sit on them. Four computers used to operate, but now you can only choose one of two computers because of the distance. The Fireside Café now has to make sure the tables are clean before people can sit to enjoy their meal.
And the facemask, it’s everywhere these days.
At the gym, you’d always make sure to sign in before using the gym and sanitize everything you use, but now you have to use your ID to let the gym worker sign you in. Not only that, but you have to use a dishcloth-looking thing to wipe down everything you sanitize after using it.
But look, the world’s not going to end; it’s just a pause in time to stop the spread of the virus, similar to the people of 1918 fighting the Spanish flu.
If we want everything, including schools, to go back to normal, we have to fight it. I know it’s hard, but we gotta do it.
We got no other choice.
This story was originally published as part of the Underground Workshop, a collaborative network of students and teachers from across Vermont, working with VTDigger to publish student journalism for a statewide audience.