Over the next few weeks, Sidelines will be presenting the stories of MTSU seniors who have found their final classes, final weeks and final memories irreparably and unprecedentedly changed. This is a first-person account by Brandon Casteel, contributing writer, graduating senior and student, interrupted.
If you are a graduating senior and would like to share your story, please email the editor at email@example.com, with the subject “Student, Interrupted.”
I am in the bedroom of my apartment going through the contents of my nightstand drawer. I can’t congregate with friends so I might as well do some spring cleaning. I find lots of birthday cards and tickets from sporting events. Memories begin to play in my head. Memories of better times. I continue to dig. I find pictures of friends and family from back home who I miss so much. My high school class ring sparkled when the light hit it. I reminisce all the way to the bottom of the drawer where I find a white stamped envelope from what seems a lifetime ago. It’s addressed to me, Brandon Casteel, at my home in Greeneville. It’s from Middle Tennessee State University’s Admission Office. On the back, bold blue letters shout out, “We Have Good News!”
At the sight of the envelope, I have to blink away tears.
Looking back on the day I opened the mailbox to retrieve this letter, never could I have realized the opportunities that awaited me in Murfreesboro. I am very thankful for those opportunities, more now than ever as I prepare to finish my studies and graduate. Life guarantees nothing and that is evident in this crazy time, when an unseen enemy has disrupted our lives.
On March 12, I was in Dallas. It was my spring break, but unlike many of my fellow students I was working. Not that I minded the work. I’m a sports fanatic who shoots video for the athletic communications department at MTSU. The job has been the highlight of my college career. With my video camera in hand, I stood at the edge of the court waiting for the Lady Raiders to run out of the tunnel for their first game in the Conference USA Tournament.
Then the public address announcer told the crowd that the tournament was cancelled due to the threat of spreading coronavirus. All the nerves and excitement left my body in an instant. My mind began to race. My heart dropped to the floor.
This was bad, but I didn’t know how bad it would get, for all of us.
A few days later the university announced all classes would move online for the remainder of the semester. No more classes with my friends in Bragg. No more MTSU chocolate milk from the POD. No more walks to the horseshoe in Walnut Grove for good luck. Normal life came to an end before I realized what was happening.
My final semester was not supposed to end like this. I wake up and set my eyes on the end of this tunnel that we are in, but it seems to just get longer. It never crossed my mind that I would not be given the opportunity to walk across the stage due to the cancellation of graduation.
I was left with a feeling of emptiness. Emptiness consumed me, but I was not alone. My Blue Raider family was suffering, from second semester freshmen to my fellow seniors. Students were loading their belongings, leaving their home away from home.
I am still in Murfreesboro, sitting in the bedroom of my apartment holding an envelope that changed my life. Many friends have called and messaged me to check on how I am. I am okay I tell them. The Class of 2020 will be just fine. I am heartbroken that we will likely not walk across the stage in May, but I cannot forget the lessons I’ve learned, the friends I cherish and the memories I’ve collected while being a Blue Raider.
Before I close this drawer, I am going to place this envelope back inside so I can one day be reminded again of everything it has given me.
To contact Editor-in-Chief Angele Latham, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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