Tiffani Pan photo

The author dons her graduation gown and flings her cap after completing her college degree at home last month.

Never have I ever thought I would finish college at home during a pandemic, but here we are.

After spending a nice, relaxing summer with my family, it was time to get back to the books. The night before the first day of classes of the fall 2020 semester, I sat on my bed and thought to myself: “This is going to be a weird one.” I remember saying to my dad, “Oh, my God, I’m really doing this. I’m not going to see anybody for like four months.”

To say getting used to remote/distanced learning was a challenge is an understatement. Taking classes over Zoom felt like talking to myself through glass. When most people hear the word “college,” they think of long nights in the library, fraternity parties and joining clubs, but COVID-19 changed all that. Classes turned online, millions of college students were sent home, and levels of motivation plummeted. Emotionless classes on Zoom, attending virtual meetings, and muting — or forgetting to mute — yourself became the new norm. If you’re in a lecture and one person forgets to mute themselves, then everyone gives them the stink eye. As the semester progressed, the challenge eventually became more of a daily routine. My office, which I share with my dad, became my new classroom. Every morning while I sat in my Chinese 101 class with my iced coffee at 9:30 a.m., everyone would hear the opening bell in the background. I was once asked if that was my alarm clock. I laughed and said, “No, that’s the opening bell from the TV. My dad’s a stock trader.”


Pan created a graphic representing a college Zoom class.

Even though my classes were on Zoom, it taught me a lot about how to manage my time and how to stay motivated. I learned so much about myself that I never knew before. While sharing an office with a parent sounds childish, doing so helped me stay on track, and seeing my dad smile made me smile. Listening to commentary from traders during the trading day on CNBC kept me sane and my dad’s encouraging messages and dad jokes brightened my mood every day. Since it was my last semester of college, I thought nothing less of it and poured my heart and soul into my work. I wanted my last semester to be as close to a semester on campus as possible. I wanted my last semester to be one I would look back at 10 years from now with no regrets.

Doing my Independent Study on Italian Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656) with my adviser Professor Liliana Leopardi was another factor that made the experience worthwhile. Professor Leopardi has helped me grow and improve my writing; better than I think I was at the beginning of the semester. I think I made the right decision. With everything that is going on, I don’t think I would have been able to keep myself motivated if I were on campus. I have no regrets.

The pandemic has impacted our job prospects: summer internship programs were either canceled or pared down and remote offices mean students are no longer getting the same first experience of an office environment. More importantly, record-breaking unemployment numbers and companies’ budgetary restrictions have left recent graduates suddenly scrambling for any job they can get.

As challenging as these times are right now, it is important to adapt. Since I completed my acquisition internship in the fall of 2017, I have dreamed of working in a museum as a curator. However, since many museums and galleries are now either temporarily or permanently closed due to COVID-19, I needed to change my mindset and adapt. As challenging as these times are right now, it is important to adapt.

— Tiffani K. Pan, SHS Class of ’15, finished her degree BA in Art History from Hobart and William Smith Colleges at the end of fall 2020 semester. She lives on Butler Road.

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