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bubbles-01
Credit: Georgia Ray

This was not supposed to happen.

I thought I was on a roll for the last part of my first year as a Quaker. Then, like many of us, I was hit in the face and heart with the containment curtain that coronavirus is dragging around the world.

As I took a much-needed walk on Wednesday to process everything, I realized that I am just one of 10,00. 2,500 first-years will miss Spring Fling. 2,500 juniors won’t celebrate Heyday (a tradition going back over 100 years). And, of course, 2,500 seniors will not be on campus for the final 60-odd days before commencement (the status of which remains uncertain). No part of the Penn community escapes this disruption.

Penn students have faced times when we have had to remain strong. But the cancellation of all on-campus life is certainly the most impactful, with no parallel in modern University history. In the face of this forced disconnection, it is up to the Penn community to help each other stand tall and live up to our reputation as the social Ivy.

Our life at Penn is a collection of social circles. We each find our own, from the small circle of our housemates, to clubs, to the Penn community as a whole. We each have a sense of pride and ownership in our circles; they cocoon us, helping us to stand when we are on shaky ground and taking us in when we are bruised. As we face a new reality of life online, these bubbles have to stay as strong as ever.

Already we have seen the Penn community react. Students and professors are volunteering to store things for and help house students in need. They have created a resource guide for each other and done countless other unseen things to help make sure no one has to face this crisis alone.

Our swift reactions make me proud to be a part of such a resilient and strong community. 

In spite of the many questions left unanswered by Penn administration and by the different levels of government, we are showing that we, a bunch of young adults, can handle a crisis, too.

We are, however, only a few days into a modified semester that will stretch to May. We’ve sprinted to bring in new information, but what comes next requires us to hold together for a longer.

The diversity of our student body means that each person has different needs and vulnerabilities that must be supported. We will no longer run into people on Locust or bump into someone in line at Williams Hall. No incidental contact means that our different individual reactions to the end of in-person social life may go unsupported. Counseling and Psychological Services will remain open (albeit remotely), but the voice of a friend can be more powerful.

This is a great challenge, but we are the social Ivy. If there is any university that can face this challenge, it’s us. We do not know what the next few months will look like, but we can inform it. Text people you haven’t talked to in a while or bring alive the dead group chat from last year. Do anything that tells someone else that you are here and in a similar place.

When we arrived at Penn, we were promised to be challenged, made uncertain and unsure. Our new reality does just that. In the same way that we work through tough problem sets or a bad writer's block together, we must help each other now. We have to reach out to ensure that we can stand tall for the rest of the academic year. Our campus, no matter how far apart, must stick together. That, more than anything, is in our hands.

ALFREDO PRATICÒ is a first year in the College from Philadelphia. His email is pratico@sas.upenn.edu.

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