In early March 2020, a Zoom icon appeared in the upper-right corner of the MyWellesley portal. Students began firing questions about what would happen at professors who knew no more than they did. Amherst, then Harvard, then Babson moved classes online. Finally, at 11:46 a.m. on Mar. 12, the email went out: Wellesley College was closing. Students had to evacuate by Mar. 17. The semester would continue remotely.
One year later, students remember the day well.
Jasper Saco ʼ22 was eating lunch with friends when they read the announcement. Their first reactions were confusion and disbelief. All around them, other students began to cry.
“Not comprehending what was happening was the general atmosphere of Bates dining hall that day,” Saco said.
A scramble to pack up and say goodbyes unfolded over the next five days.
Anna Hedinger ʼ23 had a hard time seeing her friends off, as they all left at different times. Because her flight was on the earlier end, she had to pack quickly.
“I regret not saying goodbye to, like, literally everyone I knew,” Hedinger said. “It was just who I happened to see in the hallway.”
Joy Li ʼ23 planned to spend the spring on campus and return to China when the pandemic-induced travel rush died down. But she found herself packing just as frantically as her roommate, who was going home, in preparation to move to a different dorm. Friends gave her food they could not take with them. She went treasure-hunting through various residential halls’ sustainability bins and responded to every call for help in the crew team group chat.
“I helped so many people pack and move out,” she said.
In the hours leading down to the mandatory evacuation date, Saco helped a friend pack, then went to a party on Sev Green. It started with a few students playing Mamma Mia and Latin music on speakers, and as it grew, the crowd migrated down to Green Beach.
“I think everyone was just really letting loose,” Saco remembered.
Despite the pandemic that was taking hold underfoot, students did their best to have fun in their last few moments on campus. Many thought things would be back to normal by the summer.
“That hope that we had that day, I hold on to a lot,” Saco said.
Sunny weather brought many students outside. Over the last few days before most students left, Li spent much of her time outside on the grass with friends. When the sun went down, students went inside to get as much time together as they could. Another party in Claflin Hall drew Li and much of the crew team, and it turned into a mass of students crying and hugging.
“So many fluids,” Li said. “That was not very safe at all.”
Li’s mom, who lived in Shanghai, warned her in February not to go into Boston or gather closely with friends. Li admitted that she “didn’t take her seriously at first,” taking the bus to the HMart in Cambridge to get food for a friend’s birthday. But once Harvard shut down on Mar. 10, she saw Wellesley’s closure as inevitable.
“I think I just kind of watched it follow me,” Li said.
When she left Shanghai in January, the coronavirus was already spreading quickly in China. She heard rumors that a man infected with COVID-19 had flown the same route shortly after. Friends from high school had to quarantine upon their return to university in Hong Kong, which made the situation sink in. Though she was not as careful as her mom wanted her to be, Li knew it was coming.
Others were more surprised.
“It was just really sudden,” said Hedinger.
She had been focused on whether or not the crew team would take their annual spring break trip to Clemson. And then the trip was canceled, along with the rest of the semester, and she had to pack a bag and leave.
Many students did not fully grasp the gravity of the pandemic. If they had known in March how long it would last, Saco would have hugged their friends more before leaving.
“I’ve really missed that physical touch over the lockdown,” Saco said.
“I wish I’d known it would last so long,” Hedinger said. “I didn’t understand the scope or the science of it.”
Hedinger has not been at Wellesley since last March. She spent the summer working in Alaska, studied abroad in Italy in the fall and joined her dad in Germany for the spring semester.
“It’s kind of just been a year of, like, being isolated from people I kind of got closer to,” she reflected.
Li spent the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester in her room in Cazenove Hall, lived with her aunt over the summer and has been back on campus since August. Though vaccines are rolling out, her life does not seem to have changed.
“A year later, I’m still in Caz,” Li said, “and I still have to wear a mask to go get food from the dining hall.”