As it did seemingly everywhere else, COVID-19 hit Booth like a storm. On the afternoon of Wednesday, March 11th , I attended Professor Robert Vishny’s Behavioral and Institutional Finance class at the Harper Center. Little did I know, it would be my last in-person class at Booth. By that evening, the NBA’s season was cancelled, international flight suspensions were introduced, and schools across the country announced shifts to remote instruction. UChicago followed suit the next morning.
The next several days were hectic, as news continued to flood in, and our sense of normalcy rapidly shifted. Discussions about social distancing, and what is and isn’t compatible with it, became ubiquitous among the student body: could we still have social events, as long as we stayed physically spaced out? Would there be a possible resumption of in-person class in a few weeks? Should students stay in Chicago, or leave for other locales? As the answers came in, it became clear: we had to get used to a new normal, not just complemented by, but centered around virtual experiences.
As much as students mourned the very real loss of what we hoped the Booth experience would be, these events also revealed a lot about Booth’s character. In the face of perhaps unprecedented uncertainty, students proactively rose to fill in the gaps. Where we had in-person events in years past, organized largely by clubs and student government and driven by tradition, individual students rose to offer their knowledge, service, and initiative instead. I’ve attended virtual workouts hosted by a classmate who doubles as a Barry’s instructor, played Booth-wide trivia (with prizes!), and learned about wine tasting from a classmate who was a Napa Valley sommelier, all from my living room. The student body has put together a centralized website for students to easily host and sign up for each other’s events. This is all on top of other initiatives students have pushed: blood donation drives, political advocacy, video game teams, and more.
In some ways, it maybe easier to get people “together” than ever before, since everyone is in the same boat and hungry for interaction. I’ve honestly met and interacted with students that I haven’t before
through these initiatives. Given my newly found time, I decided to reach back to my college major and offer a short talk called Rocks 101, where I explained the basics of the study of rocks and minerals. I hadn’t done serious geology in years, so I spent a couple days brushing back up on the basics and compiling a presentation full of pictures and easy to digest bullet points, test-running it with my Boothie partner. Dozens of students attended, and we talked about crystal structures, mineral optics, the types of various rocks, and how scientists study them. It was really gratifying to get such great engagement from classmates, many of whom had never studied any geology at all previously. In fact, afterward I received messages from other students who didn’t get the chance to attend, so I’ll be hosting another session this coming week.
None of us find the COVID-19 situation ideal. But it’s been abundantly clear to me that everyone in the Booth community (professors, administrators, and students) aren’t content to just sit passively as it happens. We’re doing what we can to make the most out of these crazy times.