Commencement. The women’s basketball championship and March Madness. The groundbreaking for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The sold-out alumni FGCU Fishing Invitational. The FGCU Research Roadshow. Labs and fundraisers and parties and end-of-the-year ceremonies. All these joyous events and meaningful milestones were canceled or postponed as a result of coronavirus.
COVID-19 drastically impacted the second half of FGCU’s spring semester, those of the rest of the State University System and countless other institutions across the world. This invisible menace has affected everyone, changing our lives for an indefinite time.
Although the circumstances were beyond the university’s control, how people reacted to them was not. The indomitable spirit of FGCU Eagles quickly became evident as everyone shifted to remote learning and banded together to help one another.
“The FGCU community demonstrated its unity and fortitude during Hurricane Irma and has done so once again during this unprecedented crisis,” FGCU President Mike Martin said. “While it is enormously disappointing to have to cancel commencement, we will find creative ways to celebrate the success of our graduates. The most important consideration at this time is keeping everyone safe.”
The university is planning a virtual commencement, with the hope there will be a traditional ceremony for spring graduates later in the year.
On March 15, just a week after students returned to campus from spring break, they were encouraged to return home for two weeks as concern about the coronavirus grew statewide. Two days later, the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System, declared that all classes would be conducted remotely for the remainder of the semester and traditional in-person commencement ceremonies would be canceled.
Emily Simpson, a senior majoring in journalism, no doubt spoke for many of her 1,966 fellow graduating seniors when she wrote this op-ed published in The News-Press on March 18: “Since being at FGCU, I have learned more about life and learned more about myself than I ever thought was possible…What has made my college experience so great has been the connections I’ve made with professors and students, something that can’t be replicated online. “It’s a melancholy feeling to send out graduation announcements and take graduation pictures for a ceremony that is not happening. It’s heartbreaking that this is how my college experience, the greatest four years of my life, is ending.”
Campus housing was open for students who did not have offsite relocation options. Takeout dining service was open along with the residence halls.
Some students – and the staff required to ensure that the university continued to operate – remained, but the campus was noticeably quieter than normal.
“I need not tell you that this is a historically difficult time,” Martin said, “not just on this campus, but across this community, across this nation and around the world. But I also want you to know that we are all working hard and that we will come out of this pandemic stronger than we were going in.”
Staff, faculty and students continued to work and study. The graduate students and faculty who staff The Community Counseling Center conducted telecounseling sessions with about half the clients they normally see in person, according to Alise Bartley, the director of the on-campus clinic that provides affordable counseling to the public.
Telecounseling involves the counselor and client each using a computer and camera and communicating from a distance. “We’ve had really strong participation,” she said.
“We’re excited to be there to support our clients. We are addressing with all clients how to handle change and to continue being positive.
“The students are happy, too. They are very excited about learning another skillset.”
For the Bower School of Music & the Arts, the cancellation of in-person classes also meant that the 22nd annual Student Juried Exhibition would not take place. But Assistant Curator Anica Sturdivant and a group of student workers photographed all the work and created an online catalog that allowed the art to be viewed. Most pieces are available for purchase, with proceeds going to the students.
Obviously, it’s too early to assess the full impact of COVID-19 on the world. But everyone associated with FGCU should take comfort in knowing that the university family united to make the best of a bad situation.
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