The last time I was on campus

The last time I was on campus

Commentary: Syracuse senior reflects on how the coronavirus pandemic completely upended her final semester.
Published: May 6, 2020
Allison Ingrum collage of last moments

The last time I was on campus, making it to Flip Night at Faegan’s was the priority. Just the day before, Syracuse University announced classes would be online through the end of March. Being at the Wednesday night staple took precedence over the outstanding midterm projects and articles I knew I had to get done before leaving for spring break. I slowly crossed campus alone from my Livingston Avenue apartment, in part to admire the terrain I had come to love in my four years at SU. I stopped in the middle of the quad, thinking back to freshman year when I felt so lost in that same spot. I turned around as I passed by Hall of Languages, taking note of its infamous ivy-covered walls. I actively listened to the chimes ringing from the Crouse College bell tower, which might have been a first in my four years. I wanted the world to shift into slow motion so that I could take it all in. I had a suspicion the not-yet-declared pandemic might not allow me back to enjoy Syracuse as I knew it. By the time I was inside Faegan’s, I stood simply in awe. The solitude I had embraced on the walk across campus quickly shifted into a spirit of camaraderie inside the bars. This night went from being about me, to being about the collective we. Even though I was lucky and won every coin toss that night, the dollar-drinks didn’t pack the same punch. I was too busy people watching to feel any buzz. We, the group gathered in our favorite college bar downing cheap beer together that night, started singing “Sweet Caroline” (or was it “Love Story”?) at the top of our lungs. We hugged friends and those random people from freshman year alike. “WE ARE GOING TO BEAT CORONA!” someone screamed from the crowd.

A few favorite moments prior to spring break and online classes beginning.

The last time I was on campus, it really seemed like we could beat corona. “Stay safe,” “stay healthy,” and even “happy coronavirus,” became casual exchanges on campus as I joined others in scrambling to finish the classwork I hoped Flip Night would have erased. I spent my last two school days the only way I knew how – confined to a Newhouse School booth and buried in assignments, just like any other school day. I found comfort in the routine and it felt right. But when I had to leave my comfortable Newhouse confines and cross campus for what potentially would be the last time, I couldn’t help but cry. I tried to cover it up, wiping the tears with my sleeve as I trudged past the same buildings I had cherished only a couple nights before. I decided to take a few selfies along the way, in lieu of the traditional campus graduation photos I realized I might not get another chance to take. These photos are now little keepsakes of a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The last time I was on campus, stress and anxiety manifested itself in my body in ways it never had before. I was already having a hard time heading into the final months of my senior year, and the coronavirus disruptions just added to it. It takes a lot for me to open to others, especially when that involves asking for help. In fact, it took a global pandemic and uncertainty of my immediate future for me to do so this time around. I texted my family asking for their sympathy. I sought comfort from my sorority sisters and classmates who had worked on campus magazines together. I was honest with professors about deadlines. I’ll be forever thankful for those people who provided the grace and support I needed or simply showed up to sit and chat for a few minutes in that Newhouse booth.

Allison Ingrum takes a selfie in a Newhouse booth
Working in a booth at Newhouse during those final days.

The last time I was on campus, I left feeling scared, sad, and confused. I also felt in some ways truly lucky to be low-risk and have somewhere far from campus to retreat to. I worried for my classmates who are international students thousands of miles from home, or those who had nowhere to go, who depend on work-study, who find online classes inaccessible, who are first-gen college students who risked everything to get to this point but will not walk across that commencement stage. I grieved for those who are a part of the #NotAgainSU movement and labored for each of us but whose momentum was halted, who cannot afford but to stay, who will be far from close friends and family, and who will be forced to go “home” to a toxic or unsafe environment. I felt sad for the students whose projects, plays, and publications would never come to be. And for seniors like me, I am terrified to enter the job market in a time of such economic disarray.

The last time I was on campus, I cried as I watched strangers say their final goodbyes. I cried even more when I said my own. I changed my train ticket to New York City to have one more night with my friends. My sorority’s big/little reveal was rescheduled at the last minute to take place before spring break. It is a special tradition that takes weeks to prepare, but being scrappy was better than not doing it at all. We welcomed the youngest members into our “families” and celebrated with each other before going out for dinner. Who knew Tully’s chicken tenders would be my last meal from a restaurant for months? We swapped stories and discussed the prospect of returning to campus in a few weeks. We tried to act as if everything was normal, but eventually smiling for the sake of being nice became too hard. I spent the ride home in silence, quietly gasping for air between tears in the backseat. I stood in the middle of Livingston sobbing and hugging my friends goodbye. It was only minutes, but it felt like hours. All that was left to do was pack alone in my house before catching my train in the morning. That, and let go of my friends, who had never seen me cry before. And I didn’t want to do any of it.

Allison Ingrum poses with her friends the last night before leaving SU campus in March 2020
Sorority big/little reveal with my "family."

The last time I was on campus, I got less than three hours of sleep thanks to my anxiety waking me up every half hour. I stomped down the three flights of squeaky stairs – a 50-pound suitcase stuffed with as many clothes as possible, a backpack filled with my school work and disinfecting wipes, a tote bag filled with trail mix and Girl Scout cookies, and a small bag of trash in hand – past my sleeping roommates and into the early morning darkness. The hard rain and strong winds were only fitting for the moment. I forgot my coat, but I didn’t turn around. I arrived at the train station over an hour early; the gates to the waiting room were not open. When I finally boarded, I sanitized my seat before falling asleep for almost three hours with my quarter zip sweatshirt pulled above my nose and my rain jacket pulled over that. I wasn’t going to let coronavirus get me now, and these seemingly silly measures made me feel safe. I spent the last few hours before Penn Station groggily looking out the window at the overcast scenery passing by. It seemed right out of a movie.

Allison Ingrum on Amtrak train from Syracuse to New York City with jacket zipped over face
On Amtrak to New York City with my jacket zipped above my nose and hood on.

March 13 – On the go

The last time I was on campus, I didn’t know where this journey would eventually take me. I arrived to an unfamiliar Manhattan – the hustle and bustle slowed to a socially distant pace. I didn’t recognize the city I had come to love. I remember irrationally feeling like the virus was surrounding me. I needed to be out of there as soon as possible, so I hopped in an Uber that rushed me toward my girlfriend’s Brooklyn apartment. An anxiety-filled ride through the canyons of skyscrapers, over the Williamsburg Bridge, and through the residential Bushwick streets got me there in a half-hour. I barely said hello to her and her roommates before jumping in the shower and trying to scrub the infected feeling off of me.

Allison Ingrum: Working from home in the Brooklyn apartment
Attending virtual events during spring break from the Brooklyn apartment.

The last time I was on campus, I didn’t appreciate the space and latitude I had. In Brooklyn, I became the fourth roommate living in a small, three-bedroom apartment. My spring break consisted of typical NYC work days, aligning with everyone else’s 9-6 work-from-home schedules. The living room was our open floor plan office, and the bedrooms were our phone booths. That left me to take calls and participate in my first few online classes from the roof, walking in circles and stepping up onto the tables just to get my legs moving. We ordered grocery deliveries days before they would arrive. Evenings were filled with watching sunsets on the roof before heading back into the newly converted “office” to watch Netflix. We lasted living like this for 10 days. The rest of SU’s semester was officially moved online by the time rumors started to circulate about official New York stay-at-home and no-travel orders. On March 23, we had to make a choice.  If we didn’t leave soon, we didn’t know if or when we could. My girlfriend’s mom arrived the next day and we headed for her family’s home in the Philadelphia suburbs where we now have more space and a greater sense of normalcy. I conduct my calls from her brother’s Phillies-themed childhood bedroom, surrounded by sponge-painted walls and his elementary school trophies. This is where I plan to be until this is all over. I’ll graduate virtually from here, hopefully start a career here, and eventually move back to New York into my own cramped apartment.

Allison Ingrum's desk for online classes

Weekdays near Philadelphia: My workspace for online classes.

Allison Ingrum on bike in the Philadelphia suburbs

Weekends near Philadelphia: Biking in the suburbs.

The last time I was on campus, my confidence was rattled. I’ve always been the one ready to move on. Moving across the country for college had granted me independence from my life in Dallas. Graduation didn’t scare me. I had a plan, I knew where I’d be and the type of company I was capable of working for. I wanted to leave Syracuse, but I wanted to leave in May. I had not mentally prepared to leave two months early. I had not completed the projects I dreamt about and worked so hard on, made the connections I wanted, or tied up the loose ends I needed as a college senior. As confident as I was in so many parts of my life, I wasn’t as ready to graduate as I thought I’d be.

April 25 – Packing up

The last time I was on campus, I drove behind the Cuse Trolley through Walnut Park to my Livingston Avenue house with a pit in my stomach. It was harder to be back than I expected. I walked into my abandoned room – the one on the third story of a typical broken-down University Neighborhood house that held makeshift plastic furniture and mismatched decorations – just two weeks shy of what should have been my graduation weekend. Nothing had moved from the last time I was there, except perhaps the layer of dust that had accumulated over my now-wilted plant. My bed was still tightly made and my closet was nowhere near empty. I knew I had left it this way on purpose – hopeful I’d return and pick up where I left off. But coronavirus had not yet been defeated in spite of what had been boldly proclaimed at my final Flip Night, so all that was left was to move out.

Allison Ingrum stands with graduation cap and face mask
Moving out of my Livingston Avenue apartment, graduation cap and face mask in tow.

The last time I was on campus, I gathered my belongings from the walls that were supposed to set the scene for my final semester of college – the semester full of the experiences I now feel robbed of and will never know I missed. I fight the urge to imagine what those might have been, attempting to focus on the present and how lucky I am to be safe, healthy and surrounded by people who care about me. I tried to make the most of my final semester that the coronavirus pandemic flipped upside down, but for all I know now, that would be the last time I was on campus.