Coronavirus and UCF: An Out-Of-State Perspective

By Jacob Willeford

I think I can speak for many students when I say that this has been the craziest school year we have had in our lifetimes, and we are only halfway through it. My friend Luci put it best when she said, “It’s a time we have to reflect and regroup to figure out how we’re going to make this unfortunate situation work for us.”

I do not love the year 2020, and at this point, if anyone said they did, they had better be joking, otherwise many people might say it’s offensive and insensitive (myself included). Although I’m not 2020’s best friend, I recognize its importance. This year has quickly become definitive on a global scale, and the world will never be the same, whether we are talking about COVID-19 or the Black Lives Matter movement. We will be better from this, and we will be better because we remembered what we are grateful for and recognized what needs to change.

As an out-of-state student attending UCF, I do not want to say that being away from campus and my friends has impacted me more than in-state students because no one truly knows what someone else is dealing with. Nonetheless, it has affected me, and I suspect it has affected many other out-of-state students as well because of one main reason—our association with what we call “home.”

In the fall of 2017, I was a bright-eyed, small town, passionate freshman all the way from Wisconsin. Home, at the time, was 1,321 miles away. (This number is correct; I recently drove all the way back to Orlando from Wisconsin.) UCF, and even Florida itself, had held a different connotation in my mind. It felt like I was just vacationing while taking classes, which sounds great, but feeling out of place and alone can hit you harder than you think. It didn’t take me long to worry that I wasn’t cut out for UCF, but everything began to change with time.

In the spring of that first year I met my very best friends. They got me involved, showing me how amazing UCF truly is – the diversity, the beauty, the acceptance, and the commitment to becoming more educated and optimistic people, not only learning from a curriculum, but from each other. If you open yourself up to these qualities, it is hard to resist falling in love with UCF. I did, and it became a home for me.

Having to be so far away from that home before I was ready is hard. Although UCF makes it easy to stay connected, as all of our digital platforms certainly assist us, it still feels like a part of us is missing. There’s something to be said about the emotional impact of physically being in a location; returning to Wisconsin is like returning to a prior time. It has always felt that way when I go home at the usual points in the year, like summer and Christmas break. I want to progress, and hearing and seeing things from people from high school feels too much like regression.

Then there are our parents. I love mine more than anything. Mom was military intelligence; dad climbed the ranks in the computer science department at the company he has worked for since graduating college. They give endless love and encouragement and have always known when and how to discipline. However, I just cannot live with them anymore. I’m sure this viewpoint will resonate with most of us out-of-state UCF students, and here’s why: being out-of-state and having the ability to grow so much on our own has made us independent.

Sorry, mom and dad, you did too good of a job at always encouraging us to follow our passions, work hard, and make our own way. I am so grateful for that, but the adverse effect happens to be that it can make it harder to be in the old house again. So, after a couple of weeks living with you again, we may be irritable, but only because we desire that independence, we miss our own space, and we miss our own home that you gave us the privilege to create for ourselves. COVID-19 has shown us just how grateful we are for that.

I am eternally grateful for the privilege that I have had even this far in my short life, and in many situations, I often find myself wishing I did not have it so I could empathize even better as we can always use more empathy. Even so, from my personal experience during this time, and in the things that we have all unfortunately seen in 2020, I have become intensely aware of what my privilege is and what it has given me.

For those of us that are able to attend UCF from out-of-state, like me, let’s intend to never let that specific privilege blind us from problems or cheat us out of the hard work it takes to succeed, and definitely let’s intend to never take that privilege for granted again.

I had for a while. I started getting annoyed walking on campus in the heat and sweating, taking thirty minutes to find parking in Garage B, and having two classes back-to-back with buildings on opposite sides of campus.

What do I miss now? That’s right, walking on campus in the heat and sweating, taking 30 minutes to find parking in Garage B, and having two classes back-to-back with buildings on opposite sides of campus. I miss people. I miss UCF’s diversity. I miss its beautiful campus. I miss dreading getting up for an early class but then being greeted by the smell of freshly groomed grass and feeling the sunshine on my skin. We go to school in paradise, a place filled with love, respect, acceptance, and determination. Let’s never forget that. Let’s never ever take that for granted, and let’s never take each other for granted. I miss you all. I miss my home.