GRINNELL, Iowa – Some Grinnell College seniors have chosen to finish their undergraduate days by staying in town, even though the college sent most of their peers home for the rest of the school year and canceled the spring graduation ceremony because of COVID-19.
They’re staying in town for a variety of reasons but mainly to continue living in homes for which they’re contractually obligated to pay rent and to make their final months as seniors feel meaningful.
“My rent here is paid, it’s sort of a sunk cost,” Pete Zelles, 22, a senior from St. Paul, Minnesota, said. “I realized that the majority of my friends are staying because they’re in the same position. We’re trying to make the most out of our senior year while also remaining socially distant.”
Nicole Rosengurt, a senior from Brooklyn, New York, said a decision by Grinnell College to reimburse students for their remaining room and board fees gave her enough money to sublet a room from a friend who chose to go home.
The college has not given Rosengurt, 21, permission to continue living in Grinnell with campus privileges so she will be barred from limited services available to students the college with permission to live off campus before the COVID-19 crisis. For example, she cannot enter the college’s academic buildings. On Wednesday, March 18, Grinnell College closed its libraries indefinitely.
Rosengurt had been living in an on-campus residence hall before Grinnell sent students home. “The odd part is, I have wanted to live off-campus all semester, so it’s like a twisted little wish fulfillment,” she said.
Rosengurt said she and her roommate Maggie Coleman, 22, another senior from the Twin Cities area, checked out from Burling Library a stack of DVDs before it closed its doors. They’ve also been working on a puzzle of the Sistine Chapel that Coleman’s parents bought them.
Gabriel Shubert, 21, and Paige Oamek, 20, seniors from San Diego, Calif. and Honey Creek, Iowa, respectively, have been playing Wii Sports and working on their cooking skills. They had just set dough out to rise for homemade pizza later that night when being interviewed.
“I feel like I’ve said, ‘oh, this is a good time to finish resumes and cover letters.’ But mostly I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time talking with friends and people who aren’t here on FaceTime,” Oamek said. “People have a lot to process and talk about.”
The additional time at home in Grinnell, if anything, gives these seniors an extra sense of camaraderie, they said.
“It’s been kind of like a reset on being intentional with how we hang out with people,” Shubert said. “We don’t have a choice but to see the people we live with almost constantly now. So, being intentional and having time to make dinner together is really important.”
A common thread among seniors interviewed in Grinnell during the college’s spring break, which runs from March 14 through March 29, was an apathy toward preparing for postgraduate life in an increasingly uncertain world.
Oamek was not alone in putting off job applications or postgraduate plans. Rosengurt and Coleman said they slowly were working on applications but not with much hope.
Zelles said that, even for students with job offers, it feels possible that those offers could be rescinded. Alex Sorosa, 22, a senior from Rockville, Maryland, said, “I think there’s recent news that we’re in a recession right now, so I’m just wondering what that impact will be.”
Rosengurt and Coleman also said they worry about local restaurants and businesses. Rosengurt said she has purchased takeout from local restaurants in recent days, but that she cannot afford a nightly takeout habit.
Faced with online classes and a canceled commencement ceremony, seniors who were interviewed also wondered if and how Grinnell College might make this situation up to them.
“My pipe dream is that they let seniors graduate with half the credits,” Rosengurt said. “Maybe we get a ceremony next spring where the class of 2020 goes one week and 2021 goes the next.”
“The college is going to be emotionally indebted to us for a long time,” Coleman said. “They’re going to have things to make up for, and not in a sinister way.”
Jackson Schulte is co-editor-in-chief at The Scarlet & Black, Grinnell College’s student newspaper.