As students departed campus for March break, no one in the Deerfield community could have predicted what would occur just a few short weeks later. Yet now, months after the initial departure, students and faculty alike are dispersed across the world, grappling with the shift to distance learning.
For faculty members remaining on campus, the empty halls and vacated paths serve as an alarming reminder towards the new reality of an empty campus. “Without students here, you kind of wonder what you’re doing,” said Athletics Director Bob Howe. Other faculty members echoed his words. Dr. Margaret Brown, Health Issues teacher, said that “it is a little eerie, it’s just so quiet … and now I hear all these noises that I wasn’t used to hearing before.”
The transition has not been easy. With administrative buildings and other dorms sealed off to all visitors, an empty campus has posed administrative challenges. “Meetings now happen through Zoom and email, sometimes it’s a phone call,” said Dr. Brown, “and that can be challenging because of the amount of time that we are now spending in front of our screens.” While adopting increased screen time, Dr. Brown said that she has found it helpful to be mindful. “The concept of mindfulness can look different for everyone. For me, it could look like going for a walk by myself, or it could be sitting in my room quietly.”
Similarly, the cancellation of an in-person spring term has been challenging for seniors looking towards their last term at Deerfield. “It was really sad to realize that we were not going to have our last term,” Trisha Boonpongmanee ’20 said. “We would never have that chance to be back in the community like it was throughout our years there.” Yet despite being separated by physical distance, seniors such as Boonpongmanee have managed to still sustain the community that she felt at Deerfield. Recreating a moment from Deerfield, Boonpongmanee said, “We [Boonpongmanee’s friends] all decided to Zoom call and bake vegan brownies simultaneously, that was really fun. It almost felt like we were there together.”
For others, the end of Spring break would have marked the official start to a season. Bryce Pang ’22 said, “This season our senior class was so awesome and we had so many leaders, everyone was willing to work and we were aiming for an undefeated season so it was a really big disappointment.” Yet even faced with a cancelled season, the team remained unfazed. “We all said that we would always have each other’s back and that we would always keep in touch,” he said.
For student-musicians such as Christina Li ’20, creating music during this challenging time has helped her reconnect with her time at Deerfield. “Right now, I’m working on my EP and that was going to be my senior spring culminating experience,” she said. The EP, originally designed to be released on campus, is designed to be a composite of the songs that Li has written at Deerfield, which she says is a way of “giving back.” While continuing to work on the EP from her home studio, Li said, “If I put it out, it sounds cheesy, but it is a way of connecting people.”
“This is a reminder of why I work at a place like Deerfield,” said Mr. Howe, “I do think that students will come out of this with a greater appreciation for dorm life, for classroom participation, for sports, and for special places like Deerfield … therein lies the silver lining of the COVID-19: the world is pausing, and when we get back to normal, we will all have a greater appreciation of what we have.”