It was March 15, 2019, and I was beyond excited to have been accepted into the University of Georgia, which was one of my top schools I applied to. Fast forward to the end of April, and I chose to go to UGA for the next four years.
Being a reserved kid from upstate New York, I was super excited for the new adventure. I was ready to adjust to the southern lifestyle, live far away from home and make plenty of new friends.
I was the only kid from my graduating class to choose Georgia, so I had a completely clean slate. Thankfully, my randomly assigned roommate went to high school in Fulton County, and most of his friend group also went to UGA. Therefore, I was lucky enough to already be welcomed into a decent-sized group of friends.
As an intended journalism major, there were plenty of opportunities for me to get involved in before being accepted into Grady. Oddly enough, The Red & Black was the last extracurricular organization I got involved in. Through the other extracurriculars, I made valuable friends and contacts with people in Grady, and they were impressed I was so involved at such a young age.
I was having a blast freshman year, and by the time March rolled around—although I was bummed it was coming to an end—I was super excited because I had a lot of fun plans after spring break.
It is a bit weird how the world works sometimes. I went home for spring break, and I was on my way back from Stew Leonard’s with my mother. She was talking about how quickly the break was going along, and she was sad I would have to go back in a few days. Later that same day, COVID-19 began its global takeover.
Within a few days, spring break went from a week long, to three weeks long, to five months long. Monday night, March 16, 2020, I got the email from Archnews, stating no one was allowed to return to UGA for the rest of the spring semester.
A few hours had passed, and I was just shocked. Quickly that shock turned into devastation. I was having the time of my life at college, and suddenly, I wasn’t allowed to come back. I was just crushed.
Thankfully the sadness didn’t last too long, because I was only a freshman, and I still had three normal years ahead of me. That turned out not to be the case.
It was March 26, and I had returned to Athens. Instead of spending the weekend celebrating my roommate’s birthday and then going to tour CNN in Atlanta, I was moving out all my things and roaming around a once-vibrant ghost town.
It was a long and mostly slow process getting through quarantine, but things slowly started reopening. The only thing on my mind, though, was if I would return to UGA in August. One night at the end of June, another Archnews email appeared in my inbox. This was a laid out plan to return to some form of in-person activity in the fall.
Once again I was shocked immediately following the email. Much quicker than the one in March, the shock turned to joy. I now knew I was coming back.
I knew it wouldn’t be the same as freshman year, but I was willing to take any sort of college experience that wasn’t in my bedroom and on a computer screen at home.
The adjustment wasn’t easy. I returned to the dorms and had another randomly assigned roommate, but we got along well. Similar to last year, I became a part of his friend group.
Walking around campus certainly felt different. Most people did not leave to go to hybrid classes, but I wanted to escape with any chance I got.
The scariest part was the uncertainty of having a big COVID-19 outbreak as everyone returned. All of my friends from freshman year kept saying we are going to get sent home in a few weeks, but I kept holding out hope.
By the time junior year came around, things had almost completely returned to normal.
As happy as I was for that to be the case, I had forgotten how crowded campus can get, so that was an adjustment. It was so worth the adjustment, though.
Senior year was probably my best year to date. COVID-19 taught me a valuable lesson, and that’s to cherish the smaller moments and live in the present. With every passing year I tried to do that more and more. I certainly took much more photos and videos sophomore year and beyond than freshman year and before.
In the end though, as awful as the pandemic’s impact was, I wouldn’t have my college experience any other way, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for me.
Editor’s note: Michael Doti is a member of the class of 2023 with a degree in journalism.