English professor Melanie Senn was on a road trip to San Diego with her family when she got an email that read classes would be canceled for her two children for three weeks. 

Then came the email about Cal Poly’s shutdown. 

“It was just such a strange feeling of every time I checked the email like ‘Oh my god, oh my god,’” Senn said. “Within that small weekend of three days, life totally changed.”

Senn and her family biked past a crowded bar with a line out the door that Saturday, March 14. The next day, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the closing of indoor restaurants and bars, Senn recalled.

“That was so fascinating, that kind of contrast,” Senn said.

Senn said she enjoys change, so the COVID-19 pandemic has been a “mixed bag” of emotions. 

“I’ll look back on this with a little bit of nostalgia in terms of what an extraordinary experience, and then just really appreciating my loved ones,” Senn said. 

What many students initially thought would be a longer spring break became an entire year of virtual learning. 

On March 13, 2020, aerospace engineering freshman Layne Sutton was sitting in his friend’s car after the extended school break was announced over the loudspeaker at his high school. He said he was excited about the break, but his friends were worried. 

“At first there’s that initial ‘Oh, it won’t be three weeks,’” Sutton said. “After two months, I was like ‘Oh, we’re in this for the long run.’”

Sutton said although he does not see things moving forward anytime soon, he said he feels life is fairly normal now. He received the COVID-19 vaccination and believes it will bring positive change to the country.

Architectural engineering freshman Noemi Ho was sitting in her high school presentation when it was announced that school would be out for several weeks. 

“I thought ‘This was gonna happen in a couple weeks, but also wow, spring break comes early, I suppose,’” Ho said.

Ho said some of her friends in Southern California created a petition in early January to shut schools down after several cases in the U.S. were detected. She thought it would be funny to shut down schools for something that was “probably gonna go away.”

Ho said she felt the adults and administration in the room at the time of the announcement were just as surprised as the students were. 

“How long is this going to last?” she said. “That set in pretty early.”

Mechanical engineering junior Amanda Olla said she felt COVID-19 was a distant issue even when cases were detected in the U.S. and California.

“I was thinking, ‘What the heck? Why are people going crazy over this? It’s not the apocalypse,’” Olla said. 

She said it’s strange that there have been so many phases of the pandemic — from thinking it will not last long to it being eerily quiet on the streets to increases in cases to now widespread vaccinations. 

“It’s weird because I don’t remember a specific day, really, but there are certain moments that I remember,” Olla said. “Just talking to people and being like ‘Ah, doesn’t seem like a big deal.’”

Olla said she feels it will take time for things to go back to exactly how they were before the pandemic, both socially and financially, for some. 

President Armstrong announced that Cal Poly plans to offer in-person instruction for the fall of 2021, as expected by the California State University (CSU) system

“It feels like we’re getting over the hump and starting to transition back into normal life,” Olla said. “I’m excited and hopeful that that’s going to pan out for us.”

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