AN ISOLATED SENIOR YEAR
Lindsay Messina, a senior public relations major, navigated COVID-19 fears, internship searches and a changing social life while living at home.
hen Lindsay Messina started her senior year at Temple University this semester, her first goal was that nobody in her family, including herself, would contract COVID-19, especially after her 80-year-old grandmother beat it in the summer.
“That’s my goal, that’s my hope, that’s my number one,” Messina, a senior public relations major, said on Aug. 27.
More than two months later on Nov. 8, as reported COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania rose to more than 4,000 a day, Messina was in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, spiraling her semester into a race to get tested for it while keeping up with schoolwork.
The direction of Messina’s senior year at Temple was the last thing she could’ve predicted.
In Fall 2020, Messina rarely stepped on Main Campus because of concerns about COVID-19, as cases on campus peaked at 350 after the first two weeks of the semester. With her classes and sorority events held virtually and her study abroad plans canceled, Messina’s campus was confined to the walls of her bedroom where she spent some of her final months at Temple in front of her computer.
Despite the disruptions, Messina exudes hope at every turn: she began the semester thankful to be a senior because she’d already experienced in-person sorority life and internships. Messina was always an “independent learner” in her classes before the pandemic started in March, so she appreciated the shift to online learning in the Spring 2020 semester.
Messina had lived at home in South Philadelphia since March when Temple moved classes online for the spring semester and decided to stay there initially for the majority of the fall semester. Messina signed up for all online classes this fall because she didn’t feel comfortable taking in-person classes.
Because she worked at the Main Campus Bookstore, Messina planned to only visit Main Campus for her job. But once Temple suspended in-person classes for two weeks in the second week of the semester due to rising COVID-19 cases, Messina feared for her job security if the bookstore closed and for her health if she came in contact with someone who had COVID-19, making her unsure whether to return to campus for work.
“I feel like I haven’t really had this anxious feeling about getting sick since like all of this started,” Messina said on Aug. 31.
Her manager at the bookstore reassured her she wouldn’t be penalized if she didn’t feel safe coming to campus, she said, so Messina spent the next two weeks away from Philadelphia, moving to her partner’s house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where COVID-19 cases were lower in September. At the time, Messina hoped to move back to South Philadelphia and re-evaluate returning to work on campus if cases decreased.
Just days after Messina left the city, Temple canceled most in-person classes for the Fall 2020 semester after reporting 212 cases of COVID-19 among students. Although it didn’t affect Messina’s classes, she stopped working at the bookstore at the end of September.
With her additional time, Messina focused on her classes and finding an internship for the spring, but had difficulty learning and focusing with her whole life now online. Because she “barely left the house” after stopping working, Messina’s days began to “fade together,” and the only way she could keep track of the day of the week was through relying on her planner.
“[Working] was a nice break to get away from the computer because I just felt like I was spending all of my time on my computer and everything was just kind of blurring together,” Messina said.
Although Messina was living with her family in South Philadelphia, her mother and sister worked during the day, so Messina spent her mornings and afternoons alone with her cat, Batman. But a few nights a week, her family sat down for dinner and talked to each other, helping reduce Messina’s feelings of isolation.
Gradually, Messina also picked up an old hobby — journaling — using it to document her feelings about the pandemic and the presidential election. She got the idea from a friend who started journaling the names of Americans who contracted and died from COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic. Messina journaled once a week during the semester and felt it helped to manage her stress.
Messina was critical of President Donald Trump’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but what set her “over the edge” was learning that he allegedly downplayed the severity of the pandemic in a phone call with a reporter in February. So when the presidential election came around, Messina was firmly resolved to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden.
Although he wasn’t her preferred candidate — she originally supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries — Messina felt Biden would address the issues that were most important to her, like gender equality, reproductive rights, racial equality, climate change and health care. She was already passionate about these issues, having spent her summer attending demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and engaging in classroom discussions around them in the fall leading up to the election.
After Biden became the projected winner of the election on Nov. 7, Messina didn’t attend the celebrations in Center City because of fear of contracting COVID-19 and the potential of post-election violence. Instead, she stayed home and celebrated privately.
Messina’s life was then thrown into disarray the next day when she went to brunch with a small group to celebrate her friend’s birthday. After spending the day with them, Messina went back home and got a call from one of her friends: they tested positive for COVID-19.
Messina got tested for COVID-19 as soon as she could and got a negative result, but she started feeling sick a few days later.
“I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of stuff right, and it’s just dumb because I went out with some people and it wasn’t like I was in a big crowd or anything, but it’s funny because that doesn’t matter anymore,” Messina said on Nov. 17.
In the second week of November, Philadelphia averaged 721 COVID-19 cases a day, its highest weekly average since the pandemic began, leading to new restrictions in the city on indoor dining, indoor gatherings, outdoor gatherings and businesses on Nov. 16. The next day, Pennsylvania tightened restrictions on travel into the state and mandated mask-wearing between people of different households even when social distancing is maintained.
Despite the negative test results, Messina still spent the next two weeks at home. This meant that for the first time in years, Messina would spend Thanksgiving with just her immediate family instead of with her extended family.
At a usual Thanksgiving dinner, Messina’s family gets dressed up and “makes a big deal” about the holiday, but in November they had a “chill Thanksgiving” where they wore pajamas instead.
When it was time to sign up for spring semester courses in the middle of November, Messina planned to take entirely online classes once again. Her main focus was still to find an online internship to graduate in May, but Messina was “trying to keep the faith” about her success after watching her peers find internships during the fall semester.
“We have to make it work at this point,” Messina said on Nov. 17.
Coupled with spring internship worries, Messina was also nervous about finding a job post-graduation in the summer as the national economy recovers. Before then, she was hopeful for the spring semester, wishing to see her friends and extended family more after spending fall away from them.
But at the end of her semester, Messina tried not to focus on what she’s missing out on, something she did when the pandemic began in March, she said. Instead, she focuses on her life right now, which is “the best situation that it can be.”
“It’s just crazy looking back at where I was last year during New Year’s, I thought my life would be in a completely different place, and I think a lot of people felt the same way, that we would be in houses for all of 2020,” Messina added. “My hope for 2021 is just not to be stuck in my house. I just wanted to spend time with, I don’t know it sounds cheesy but I want to spend time, I want to spend time with the ones that I love, and to graduate.”