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By Samantha Mocle

Just eight weeks before commencement, Lasell University senior Rosa Del Carmen Gomez prepared for another day at her WGBH internship in Boston. Julissa Salazar and My Nguyen worked on pieces for their senior fashion collections. Jimmy Kappatos gave tours of campus to prospective students. Morgan Choquet packed for the women’s lacrosse trip to Puerto Rico, while Joe Sullivan prepared for the baseball team’s upcoming games in Florida. One week later, the coronavirus pandemic would send nearly all members of Lasell’s senior class — and the University — home.

The Class of 2020 will go down in Lasell’s history for many things: most members started college in 2016, in the thick of a contentious presidential election; the Science and Technology Center reshaped campus in 2017, followed by the creation of a five-school system and the Lasell Works program; and the institution’s historic name change made them the first graduating class from Lasell University. Before COVID-19, the Class of 2020 proved themselves an unflappable, tenacious group of individuals who valued compassion and support. In their final weeks as Lasers, they upheld that spirit and demonstrated what it means to be repulsae nescia — ignorant of defeat.

The swift shift felt around the world as the pandemic neared new heights came to Lasell at the peak of the spring semester.

“We were at that point when graduation was finally in sight,” says Katie Jones. “All of those senior year milestones were in our head.”

“Those final weeks were an opportunity for a last hurrah,” says Becca LeBlanc. “There was more I wanted to say and do with people. I wanted to know our entire class before we left.”

Classes moved online as students moved off campus — just 69 remained in reassigned housing through May. Twenty-six senior athletes on four varsity teams ended their seasons before they really began.

“We had baseball practice the Thursday before break and that’s when I got the notification from ESPN that NCAA sports were canceled,” says Joe Sullivan. “I was home the following Monday. It all happened so fast. We were in mourning.”

“I was in denial,” adds Morgan Choquet. “In those final days I would look out of my window in Forest Hall and see people flooding out of the dorms.” Even with packed parking lots full of students and parents, she still wondered, “Is it that bad?”

As news and regulations rapidly changed, so did students’ plans.

“I had to face the reality that I was holding onto a version of Lasell that wasn’t there anymore because of the pandemic,” says Jimmy Kappatos. “When I returned to campus to move out, it felt like I was in Pompeii. Everything was where we left it before up-and-fleeing.”

Mindy Esposito likens the situation to a bad breakup: “There was no closure.” For her and others involved in the University’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program, the decision to cancel negated a year of fundraising, planning, and peer education.

“I cried when I wrote the email to our partner at the National Parks Association. It was heartbreaking.”

The speed of change didn’t help.

“I wasn’t processing it all and couldn’t pinpoint what I was feeling since so much was going on at one time,” says Kate Kennedy. “I was lost in a sea of emotions — sadness, anger, hope — and it just got harder as things progressed.”

The first few weeks at home were a difficult study in isolation for Rosa Del Carmen Gomez, who rarely spent time by herself on campus.

For Jones, moving out reminded her of the senior year milestones she and her peers would miss.

“I knew that leaving Lasell after graduation would be a big adjustment for me, but being cut off cold turkey? There was no preparation for that,” she says. “It’s easy to look back and understand that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, but in those early moments, it felt like no one heard what we wanted or understood what was being taken away.”

Senior year marked the first time that Choquet had truly felt at home in her adult life.

“I had this freedom and then in an instant I moved home and it felt like being back in high school,” she says. Plus, her smart watch would ping her about lacrosse games that were now canceled. “It kept reminding me that I didn’t want to be at home. I wanted to be on the field.”

Julissa Salazar and My Nguyen wanted to be at the Donahue Center for Creative and Applied Arts to finish their senior fashion collections. Shared spaces and lack of access to mannequins, pattern tables, and sewing machines made it difficult or in some cases, impossible, for many seniors to complete their looks at home.

“Showing our work is something that every fashion design and production senior looks forward to,” says Salazar. “The year was full of mixed emotions; I loved working in the studio, and at home, it was difficult not having access to basic materials.”

Every member of the Class of 2020 dealt with a unique set of circumstances, setbacks, and moments of resilience. For Vanessa Rose, an internship at All CPAs in the middle of tax season filled the void that many classmates experienced after leaving campus.

“I was in the office every day at 8 a.m. from Monday through Saturday,” she says.

Likewise, Esposito was also busy through the end of the semester. Her education practicum moved online, putting her in kindergarten and first grade virtual classrooms five days a week.

Some seniors felt fulfilled and busy while classes were in session. Others felt the emptiness of time without campus events and social opportunities.

“I found myself more confused when I moved home and things went online,” says Nguyen. “Before the pandemic I was always busy, but I had clear direction. At home, I didn’t have a sense of what to do.”

Rose’s routine — once packed with six days in the office plus homework and virtual classes — came to a halt when her internship ended.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself. I lost all motivation and my anxiety really took a toll.”

Gomez agrees. “I love being busy and went from that state of mind to doing nothing. I didn’t know what to do with my time, I couldn’t see any of my friends, and then I graduated and had no plan.”

Olivia Knotts was an elementary education major whose practicum came to an uncertain close when her third-grade classroom transitioned to online learning.

“There were times when I couldn’t wait to graduate and it struck me so hard when things ended sooner than I thought,” she said.

When courses moved online, education practicum professor Deborah Maniace checked in almost daily with Knotts and her peers to make sure that their mental health and safety was being addressed.

“It was clear,” says Gomez, “that our professors saw us as individuals with families and personal circumstances — and we understood that of them as well. I was reminded of how special and unique Lasell is.”

At home, Joe Sullivan found a few silver linings unique to the situation. As one of four siblings with clashing schedules, he had limited time with his family during the year. Moving home removed that barrier. LeBlanc also appreciated extra time with her family, particularly as the semester picked up after spring break.

“They saw how hard I worked on my projects and assignments,” she says. “It was nice to wrap my mom into my life and have her really get a sense of my world.”

Jones took solace in how well technology kept her friend group together. It gave her assurance that even after graduation, their connection would not sever.

Another unexpected opportunity? Fashion production and design majors were contacted by Professor Lynn Blake to showcase their work virtually at Boston Fashion Week.

“If the pandemic hadn’t happened, I am not sure that we would have that chance,” says Nguyen.

“A lot of us felt and some still feel stuck,” says Kennedy. “I spent four years getting ready to join an industry [hospitality] that cannot exist in the foreseeable future.” In some ways, she adds, it is a time to be especially creative and find new ways to problem solve.

“There are new opportunities for our class, and I want to move onto the next chapter in my life,” but without a senior week or formal commencement ceremony, she and others lack a sense of closure. Kennedy, a first-generation student, awaits commencement to celebrate an achievement she attributes to her entire family.

“I might be the one walking,” she says, “but I am piggybacking my parents on my shoulders. It’s not just my degree.”

At the start of Rose’s internship, the promise of a full-time job at her firm was almost certain after graduation; that changed when the pandemic hit.

“That plan got thrown out the window. It took a lot of discipline to get the motivation to do things, especially with the emotional burden of not knowing what would come next,” she says.

“Not knowing exactly how things will be for us in the next year is the most challenging,” adds Sullivan. Though he plans on returning to home plate next spring as a graduate student, “It’s tough to know that I won’t see everyone who left. Our class is a special group.”

Ever since they arrived on campus, says Kappatos, the Class of 2020 has stood out as a unique community capable of withstanding tremendous change. “Our class has always been different. We knew that we needed each other to get through this.”

“In March, it felt like everything was being taken away from us,” says Gomez. “Now, I’m trying to be more optimistic. The whole situation was a growing experience for our class, and I’m trying to think bigger than myself and my college career.”

Knotts also acknowledges how scary things were for her in March. At the same time, she feels like a stronger, better person moving into the next phase of her life.

“Being a part of the Class of 2020 has been heart-wrenching. But while it is upsetting and there are so many unknowns, we can control how we respond and what we do moving forward.”

TO THE LASELL UNIVERSITY CLASS OF 2020:
We salute each and every one of you for navigating one of the greatest and most unprecedented situations in modern history. Thank you for your honesty in sharing your heartache. Thank you for your ability to find moments of optimism in the midst of uncertainty. Thank you for being ignorant of defeat. As we move forever forward as a University, know that you will not be left behind. We will carry your light and your legacy with us as a cornerstone of Lasell’s history. We will use your resilience as a torch to guide us through the most difficult of times, and as a beacon of hope for a future filled with leaders like you.