Photo: Christina House/Los Angeles Times/Polaris
Cal State University Fullerton student Linh Trinh, 21, right, and her boyfriend Tan Nguyen, 21, walk around a deserted CSUF campus on Tuesday, April 21. The school is planning to begin Fall semester with online classes, one of the first universities in the nation to make that move as campuses throughout the country grapple with how long to stay closed to most students amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The sudden onset of the coronavirus crisis and the rapid closure of college campuses that followed did not allow time for professors to connect with students about how to plan for and navigate the uncertainty of what lay ahead. In the letter below, Cal State journalism professor Teresa Puente shares what she wishes she had been able to tell her students when the college first closed. 

Dear students,

I offer one last lesson for you, one that has nothing to do with the courses you have taken with me this past semester.

Life during this time of pandemic and historic civil unrest has been difficult for most of you, and for me, too.

We are experiencing a sort of collective trauma in the present. There is so much uncertainty about the future. Many of your student internships have been canceled. The tight job market you were looking at a before coronavirus arrived has worsened, as the unemployment rates in the U.S. alone swelled to historic highs.

Here is what I want to say to you: Don’t lose hope.

I am reminded of a quote by the late poet, Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Ask yourself: Who do you want to be? What contribution can you make to the world? How can I get there?

As bad as things are, this can be a time for you to reflect on and even research the career you want to pursue or the subjects that most interest you. Maybe you can highlight your creative talents on Instagram, YouTube or a blog.

Spend time pursuing something you are passionate about. A dream of mine is to publish a book. I recently joined an online weekly writing group to help me get there.

It’s never been more important to take care of your mental and physical health than in these frightening times. Please find ways to care for yourself.

I put on a mask and go for a walk three times a week. The other days I do yoga from my living room.

Because I live alone, it’s become even more important for me to stay connected to other people via phone or video chat. I have not had a face-to-face conversation with anybody since March 19. I talk to my mother and my best friend on the phone every day, and I reach out to others daily. I Zoom with friends. I participate in an online dance party and join Zoom “happy hours.”

Find ways to help others. A lot of people are focused on what they have lost and that grief is real. It’s important to validate that. It could be the loss of a job, not having a graduation ceremony, the loss of a relationship or even a family member. It’s only natural to feel like we have lost time and experiences. We have.

We also may have gained some new relationships or twist on old ones as well. If not, we can work to achieve that.

Take a moment to turn the focus away from ourselves from time to time and think about what you can do for others.

It might mean calling an elderly neighbor or friend who may be isolated. It could be making an online donation to a charity, or ordering from a local business, if you are financially able to do so. It could be as simple as thanking the mail carrier or grocery clerk, or saying hello to strangers you pass on the street.

It is important we do not lose these kinds of expressions of kindness and compassion in the face of a crisis. These are the things I have learned in these last two months. I wish I would have known to tell you all this at the start of the crisis.

I hope to see you all again in person one day soon. Until then, know that I am thinking of you and wishing the best for you, our campus and the country.

Yours,

Professor Puente

•••

Teresa Puente is a professor of journalism at California State University Long Beach.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. Commentaries published on EdSource represent viewpoints from EdSource’s broad audience. As an independent, non-partisan organization, EdSource does not take a position on legislation or policy. We welcome guest commentaries that reflect the diversity of California. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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