This story was written in spring 2020 for the University of Mary Washington Weekly Ringer news section. It was not published due to setbacks in the editing process.
Education today looks very different than it did last fall. While professors continue to adjust to
a variety of in-person and virtual classes, UMW students are preparing to return to campus
beginning on September 10. But it will not be the same.
Classes will be half the size, dining facilities will not house the familiar socialization between
students and workers, and community building experiences such as music and sports have been
cancelled for the semester. With all these changes to the genuine college experience, what is
motivating UMW students to remain enrolled through this uncertain year?
“I’m doing it because I know that if I don’t,” said sophomore German major Sydney Burnley.
“I’ll regret it later.”
While many aspects of life have been put on hold, returning students agree that continuing
their education is one way in which they can move on in spite of COVID-19 and the challenges it
“I realized that there is no ‘right time’ to act,” said junior Communications and Digital Studies
major David Minihan. “And that the smartest move I could probably make is to just finish it so I
can move forward.”
Many students are motivated simply by the reality that if they postpone their education now, it
will be much harder to pick up where they left off. Although classes and socializing will be
modified to ensure the safety of everyone on campus, the UMW community is moving forward
with determination to overcome the obstacles lying along the path of higher education this
“I wanted to start working,” said graduate student Alexandra Cooper when asked why she
decided to continue with her fifth-year master’s in education program. “I wanted to be a
Cooper went on to talk about the difficulties of training to be a teacher during COVID-19, and
how there were times when she doubted how it could possibly work. Throughout the end of
last semester as well as the past few months of summer, UMW students have faced many
adjustments and temptations to simplify and put college education on hold.
Five months ago, on March 11, the university shut down. Residence halls were abandoned
overnight, and students flocked home in the early stages of the pandemic. The spring 2020
semester concluded completely online, and discussions about how they would proceed ensued
throughout the summer.
Retrieving belongings continued to be postponed until April as students received varied
updates on what the coming year would look like. On July 6, the original return to campus plan,
also known as #ForwardUMW, was released. This outlined that move-in would begin August 20
and provided details about the changes in both social and academic life. The initial testing plan
emphasized focusing on testing individuals with symptoms instead of those without.
By the end of the summer, many of these original plans were adapted, causing more
uncertainty about the coming year. Most classes have been moved online and many campus
activities have been cancelled for the semester. Move-in was postponed from August 20 until
September 10, social gatherings have been limited to 10 people, and testing strategies focusing
on symptomatic individuals have been changed to include 200 random COVID tests per week.
Even with the changes and uncertainty about the 2020-2021 academic year, many students are
still determined to continue their education with UMW. Within the past several months, there
have been many valid reasons for students to doubt the importance and necessity of remaining
enrolled in school this year. So, what do they have to look forward to?
Although there will undoubtedly be challenges, UMW students are returning to campus with
the hope of making the most of the fleeting times that they have left in their college years.
Social gatherings have been limited to 10 people, but small groups can still meet and grow
friendships. Interactions between students and professors will continue, although not for all
classes and once again in a restricted capacity.
Being a member of the UMW community, however distant and difficult it may be during the
pandemic, is enough to motivate students to remain enrolled in school. Beyond the trials of
COVID-19, there is the hope of a bright future. There is the dream and passion of making a
difference in the world with the skills provided by a college education.
“It’s not so close,” Cooper said about moving onto help others after thriving in the UMW
experience. “But I can see it on the horizon. Graduation, finishing my degree, is on the horizon.
May 2021 is closer than we think.”