Degree Attainment in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
by Daviona Moore
When I was 17 years old, I made the life-altering choice to be the first in my family to attend college. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, my family and I drove 1,500 miles from Houston to Los Angeles to help me move into my first-year term at Occidental College. I didn’t know what the next four years would entail, but I knew there was a lot to learn before walking across the stage at graduation.
On March 12th, 2020—my junior year—Occidental College students received news that would drastically alter our academic outlook: a campus closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I was on spring break in New Orleans at the time, and this was not the news I expected to receive. Instead of enjoying my well-deserved vacation, I was faced with a wave of uncertainty and fear. What did the remainder of the semester hold for me? For my friends? I sat there in shock. Luckily, when I returned to Los Angeles, I was granted the privilege of remaining at Oxy’s campus with approximately 100 other students who were also unable to return home.
My new academic environment was strange, to say the least. Would classes still be at their regularly-scheduled time now that students were scattered across time zones? What would exams look like? Would I ever return to Houston? Would I fall into Team BlueJeans or Team Zoom? Having never experienced a pandemic before, I was under the impression this would be a short-term arrangement; that all would be back to normal in a few weeks. Little did I know, it would be the last time I would see my friends in person for a very long time.
I had no idea I would remain in Houston to finish out my senior year and how difficult it would be to balance work, school, and family needs.
I’m a hugger. Hugs are how I convey joy, love, and support to those around me. Following COVID-19 precautions, this aspect of everyday life was no longer an option for daily in-person interactions, if any. Although I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the past four years, the landscape in California is still largely unfamiliar and stands in stark contrast to my home in Texas. I was constantly afraid for my family’s safety as well as my own while juggling the many moving parts that entail finishing my degree and figuring out what comes after graduation. 2020 didn’t make it easy--in fact, because that year simply refused to let up or hold back--the summer proved particularly difficult as I watched the country suddenly grapple with the racial inequities I’ve always known. As a young Black woman, I feared for my life as the National Guard lined the streets of my neighborhood following Black Lives Matter protests in May and June. I felt, and still feel, that so much of my life has been taken away from me.
I wasn’t allowed to be Black. I wasn’t allowed to hug my friends. I wasn’t allowed to explore Los Angeles. I wasn’t allowed to attend classes. I couldn’t see my family. I couldn’t travel. I felt I’d reached a dead end.
I’m in the final months of my senior year now, and it feels like I’ve reached the light at the end of the very long tunnel. I’ve managed to channel my negative emotions into action rather than continue to sit in them. I’ve focused on activist work in a personal attempt to spread some form of good in the world. Collaborating with young, like-minded activists on projects around Planned Parenthood, the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and reproductive justice helped me do a three-point turn out of the dead-end I found myself in over the summer.
As COVID-19 cases began to fall, I regained hope that I’d be able to see my family again. I flew home in early November to spend two much-needed months with my family for the holidays. Expecting it to be only a few weeks, I had no idea I would remain in Houston to finish out my senior year and how difficult it would be to balance work, school, and family needs—especially during a pandemic. Nevertheless, I’ve continued pushing through and am prepared to return to Occidental College to complete my final semester. But as cases continue to rise to unheard-of numbers, I know that the chances of returning back to Oxy—my university, where I expected to spend four years—are slim. I am disappointed that I am being deprived of the normalcy I had expected when I moved to Los Angeles in 2017.
I am a first-generation college student and I have always dreamed of walking across the stage on graduation day. To have my friends and family watch me receive a diploma that I worked so hard to obtain is now just that—a dream. A virtual graduation was not the ending I envisioned for the conclusion of my Occidental College career.
But despite it all, I remain optimistic. The ongoing vaccine rollout makes me feel hopeful that this seemingly endless pandemic will come to a close. Throughout all this, I have learned volumes about myself and the relationships I hold dear. I have come to relish and love virtual game nights with friends, whether Dungeons and Dragons or online Mario Kart, as these events have been restorative for my well-being.
2020 wasn’t the year I expected. It wasn’t really what anyone expected. But from all of it, I now know that I am resilient. I am able to embrace flexibility and change even during the most uncertain of crises. I am able to focus on what I can control, and let go of what I cannot.
My undergraduate career might be coming to a close in a way that I never imagined when I stepped foot on Oxy’s campus four years ago. Whether I walk across a stage in May or watch the celebrations from my laptop at my family home, who I am—who I’ve become, and what I’ve earned and accomplished—will not be dimmed because of this pandemic.