The parking lots and streets are vacant.
Classrooms sit in echoing silence. The Hope Barber Shull Academic Resource Center is dark and Loyd Auditorium's seats remain empty every morning at 10:30. At the beginning of spring break, when students learned classes would be taught online, many students were optimistic that they would be able to return to campus by mid to the end of April. Unfortunately, fate did not see it that way.
In the midst of this global pandemic, students nationwide are adjusting to completing their schooling at home. "The first feeling was just shock, and the reality didn't really sink in when the announcement was first made," Andy Baumberger, a senior, recalled. "Over the next few days, my feelings were primarily nostalgic and reflective as I looked back on my time at Freed, but I was also kind of feeling a sense of disappointment and loss for all the things I wasn't going to experience."
Ali Russell, a junior student-athlete, said, "When sports got cancelled, I was distraught. Not only would I miss out on an entire season of competition, but I would miss out on bonding with my teammates and making memories that would last a lifetime."
Logan Richardson, a freshman, said, "I miss chapel. It's such a routine part of everyone's day that we overlook its importance. I miss walking to my usual seat, seeing everyone I love seated around me and hanging out, even if only for a few moments, before the singing uplifts me."
Even though Loyd Auditorium remains dark and empty at 10:30 a.m., chapel services were still being offered online at FHU's website. They were streamed every weekday at 10:30 like normal even though the chapel speakers are not standing up on the stage.
At 10:20 a.m., this sidewalk is usually crowded with students making their way to chapel after class (Picture taken on a Thursday morning).
The students' absence is felt on campus and in the community. Shannon Sewell, director of facilities, updates the facilities Instagram account daily — posting various scenes around campus with the hashtag "#missyoumore" to let the students know they are missed and their return is much anticipated.
"I think what I miss most about living on campus is having a schedule," Russell said. "My class schedule was the same every week, except for when class was cancelled. Practices were at the same time every day. I could go to the gym, study, do chores, and run errands in between, before or after classes. Regardless of what I did, I did something. I was just out and about, just living life."
Whether we are considered essential workers, students, or forced to work from home, the virus and national shutdown have caused some sort of disruption to our lives. Perhaps we need to take extra time out of our day to clean our surroundings, put on a mask and medical gloves before entering the store, or run all over town to find toilet paper and milk for our household. The daily ebb and flow of life has been interrupted by these extra steps we have to make and the caution we must use while in public or at home.
Perhaps the pandemic is felt most by students who are suddenly learning their subjects online instead of in a traditional classroom. "I feel that distance learning is okay for some classes, but not all of them. Take, for example, my accounting class. I'd rather be in the classroom because I can actually see how my professor works problems on the board and ask questions and receive a reply right then and there," Amelya Cooper said.
Andy Baumberger said, "I definitely think that distance learning is doable and adequate, but this experience has made me realize how much better it is to be in a physical classroom."
Ali Russell predicted that the rest of her semester would be challenging with online courses, but she was not prepared for how taxing it would be during the COVID-19 crisis. "I am a very responsible individual," she said, "but routinely checking every single one of my classes and staying on top of the dozens of assignments has been overwhelming."
Beyond the classroom, being away from Henderson has highlighted the importance of the family atmosphere found on campus. "I certainly miss the constant access to my best friends. For nearly four years, there is always someone to eat with, study with, talk about the Bible with, hangout with, and to have that cut off so abruptly is disorienting. I also deeply miss my church family at Bethel Springs and being involved in the work of the congregation there," Baumberger stated.
Leaving campus has affected his senior year in many ways. "I've certainly been able to appreciate so many blessings in a deeper way as a result of what has happened this semester. It has made me even more thankful for all the wonderful experiences that I've had at Freed because it's made me realize that I am not entitled to any of those experiences. It's made me especially thankful for the relationships that I've made with faculty and students that I know will continue beyond Freed. This change has also forced me to reflect on my sense of identity because so much of my time and energy has been wrapped up in the FHU world and the activities I've done and the organizations I've been a part of here the last four years. So, the abrupt change prevented me from having a sense of closure and it's difficult to just be cut off from that so suddenly," he said.
For seniors such as Baumberger, as well as those who will be graduating from graduate school this semester, commencement has been moved from mid-May to Aug. 22. This will be the weekend after Welcome Home, so students who are returning next semester will be able to celebrate their friends' and fellow classmates' graduation with them.
In spite of how the semester has ended, students look back fondly at their time at Freed this year. Russell said, One of my best school-related memories from this past spring and fall semester was one of my tennis matches. It was the first match I had been able to play in for the spring season. My partner and I had lost a very difficult doubles match so our spirits were already down before singles matches even started. It was finally my time to play singles, and it was the best singles match I have ever played. My opponent and I were back and forth the entire match. She was up one set, then I was up the next, and back and forth. Two hours later and we were at a tie-breaker. We were both exhausted and frustrated, but I had not put all that effort and time in just to lose at the end. I played with everything I had and won the match. My cheering teammates jumped over the fence and congratulated me. I was euphoric, thinking that this first match had just set the tone for the best season yet. Little did I know that would be the first and only match of my junior year."
"There have been so many wonderful moments," Baumberger said. "The ones that stick out the most are conversations that I have had in the library or after devos or in the car on the way back from church about spiritual things. I'll certainly treasure all of those conversations."
"I miss the people," Richardson told me. "Yes, that's broad, but it's true. I miss my friends and even my teachers. No amount of technology can replicate the community of love and support that exists in Henderson, Tennessee."
Cooper said it best with her comment, "Honestly, I don't have a favorite memory of being on campus because Freed-Hardeman University is my favorite place to be. I'm just ready to go back to the place I love most and see all my favorite people again."
As the days roll by while the nation is in lockdown, we know that this too shall pass. It could take a while longer for things to go back to a sense of normalcy — perhaps a new definition of normalcy will be evident in our day to day lives, but Freed-Hardeman and its students have stood the test of time and will continue forward. This has been a remarkable 150 years with ups and downs for the university. Perhaps in another 150 years the history of FHU will recount just what happened during the pandemic and how it affected the Freed-Hardeman community.
Pictures and article provided by:
Aaron Hancock, Community Engagement Coordinator