Sunday, October 1, 2023

Remembering a Year We’ll Never Forget


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Story by Ethan Pickering / Assistant Lifestyle Editor and Other Contributing Writers

One year ago, Middle Tennessee State University students were scheduled to complete their first week back after spring break.

That was the week that never was.         

Before students could head back from their spring break destinations, university officials closed all face-to-face classes and made “Zoom” a popular word to search on the internet. Most students only returned to campus to prematurely move out of dorms.

The campus went silent.

That time seems so long ago after the year all of America, indeed the world, has experienced. It has been a year of disruption of the normal and has brought unspeakable tragedy to the families and friends of more than a half-million Americans who have died from COVID-19. The year has been fraught with fear and uncertainty. 

The first traces of COVID-19 cases were reported in the U.S. throughout Jan. 2020. The first confirmed case in Tennessee was March 5, 2020, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Shelby, Williamson, Davidson and Knox counties each reported cases in consecutive days. By the end of March, 88 counties reported active cases. The last of the state’s 95 counties to report the arrival of COVID-19 was Hancock County, in East Tennessee, on May 18.

The number of Tennessee cases is 789,652, according to state health statistics. As of March 15, 11,639 Tennesseans have lost their lives to the coronavirus. MTSU reported 22 active cases among the student body the week of March 15. This is down from a high of 106 active student cases on Nov. 19, 2020, according to data distributed by MTSU. 

Finally, there’s light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. Hope lies in the distribution of vaccines across the country. 

The United States is 12 percent fully vaccinated and 21 percent partially vaccinated, according to the New York Times. Vaccinations are now being given on campus. President Biden has said in an address to the nation that he wants vaccines to be available to all U.S. adults by May 1. 

The pandemic has changed our lives, to be sure. It’s also given us stories to tell. Following are dispatches from MTSU student journalists, telling stories of the myriad of ways COVID-19 has affected us over the past year, from losing the sense of taste and smell to scrambling for lunch money due to job loss to losing a loved one. 



In March of 2020, Mason Hargis, 20, was busy at his dream job, helping to run the kitchen at Top of the Rock, a restaurant high on a mountainside in Kimball where he’s been sous chef since 2019.  The coronavirus making its transglobal journey across the ocean was not a threat. That is, until he tested positive for COVID-19, keeping him in quarantine for two weeks.

COVID-19 took Mason Hargis away from his sous chef job at a mountaintop restaurant and the simplest pleasure of tasting food. Photo contributed by Hargis.

“I have had asthma all my life, and when I caught COVID-19 I was nervous because it is an underlying health condition that does not help my situation. It was tough not having the strength to do simple things at home, but I’m glad that I got over it,” said Hargis, whose closely cropped red hair tops his six-foot-3-inch frame. In high school his nickname was the “ginger giant.”

Hargis has always been a hard worker, from his time in high school working at Western Sizzlin, a local restaurant just off Interstate 24 in Marion County, to working at the nicest restaurant in town. He’s always been a focused, hard-working employee. The idea of missing work while he was quarantining, combined with the fear of bringing COVID-19 to his family, was a one-two punch that made life uncomfortable. He won’t soon forget.

“At the time when I was stuck at my house, not able to help support my family, it kind of made be sad. Not only did I feel bad that I was not able to work, but I also might have infected my family,” Hargis said. 

Unfortunately, his wife and kids also showed symptoms. In a matter of a month his family of five were all sick. Fortunately, no one required hospitalization.

“I don’t want to sit and think that it was my fault that everyone except for my dad had caught COVID-19. I’m just glad no one passed with or from COVID-19,” said Hargis. 

The sous chef didn’t sugarcoat what living with the coronavirus was like. From the lack of taste and smell to the lack of energy, the illness took away the simplest pleasures in life. Worst of all, he couldn’t do what he enjoyed most: cooking. Hargis yearned to return to work and a sense of normalcy, but COVID-19 moved through his body at its own pace.

“When we were finally able to get back to work, it was weird wearing a mask at first, but you have to do what you have to do,” Hargis said.

Hargis said that when he was staying at home, he was able to learn more about COVID-19, and he’s come to a decision that goes against the advice of doctors: he will not be getting the vaccine. Since he had already beat the coronavirus, he sees no need to get the vaccine.

Story above by Tyler Butner



McKenzie Ihrie is counted among a few Americans who contracted COVID-19 twice during the last year. It’s not clear how many people have been become ill twice, but scientists are continuing to look at these patients to gain an understanding how the coronavirus returns when the patient should have built up a measure of immunity.

Tennessee Tech student McKenzie Ihrie contracted COVID-19 twice, a situation that scientists don’t fully understand. Her sense of taste and smell has not yet fully recovered. Photo contributed by Ihrie.

Ihrie, a 20-year-old student at Tennessee Tech University where she’s majoring in secondary education and is a member of Delta Phi Epsilon sorority, doesn’t have an answer for why she got it twice. She just knows that a double dose of COVID-19 is no fun. 

The first time she contracted the coronavirus likely came from one of her sorority sisters during a visit to a pumpkin patch in October of 2020. The coronavirus was hardly on her mind, and beside it was an outdoor event. She didn’t think of the possibility of becoming ill. 

Days later the symptoms began. “The first time I just felt really tired and lethargic and malaise,” she said. After a few days, she felt better, but still had to quarantine for some days afterward just to make sure she was free of the symptoms. Eventually she was able to return to a more or less normal life at school.  

“I didn’t think I was immune, but I did think I had some kind of immunity built up,” said Ihrie, referencing the common thought of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the subject.

The second time Ihrie caught the coronavirus was in January. She may have contracted the coronavirus from another sorority sister who worked at a healthcare facility and contracted the illness from a patient. 

Her second round was more serious. There was coughing, sneezing, and the loss of taste and smell that is experienced by many COVID-19 patients. Months later her ability to taste and smell has not fully returned, but other than that she has had no other long term side effects. 

Story above by Lindsey Cook



Tanner Womble won’t have any trouble remembering his first days working in healthcare as a licensed practical nurse. He’ll never forget COVID-19 and the illness it brought to patients.

A year into his first year working in the medical field, Tanner Womble has no regrets that his nursing career was marked by the pandemic. Photo contributed by Womble.

After graduating in 2017 from Moore County High School in Lynchburg, Womble attended Motlow State Community College and discovered a career that excited him instantly. His brother, Austin, works at a hospital as a maintenance supervisor and told stories of life in the hospital. Even though Womble’s brother wasn’t working on the medical side of the operations, what his brother told him led him toward nursing.

After Motlow, Womble enrolled in the LPN program at Shelbyville Tech. Participating in the classes gave him a firsthand look into the medical field and he was eager to meet the challenges. Only a few weeks into 2020 and his first job at Harton Regional Medical Center, the COVID-19 pandemic took grip of the world. Suddenly, his career in health care took on a larger purpose.

One year into the pandemic he has no regrets, despite long hours wearing protective personal equipment while working and being exposed to patients diagnosed with COVID-19. 

“I think you kind of go into the medical field with the expectation that something like this could always happen, in my opinion. Nobody knows what the next big pandemic, disease, or crisis is going to be, but that’s just kind of an assumed risk that something like this could happen,” said Womble.

The 21-year-old acknowledged it would be easy for him to rethink his decision, but Womble said he is now finding new purpose in what many hope are the last months of the pandemic. His new job is vaccinating patients every day, on top of his regular rounds.

Story above by Dillon Taylor



Alicia Heath’s job is to help credit card customers whose accounts have been compromised by fraud. For many years, she traveled every day from her home in Smyrna to an office building in Franklin where she and co-workers took calls sitting in cubicles.

Working from home is something Alicia Heath has learned to enjoy and would like to continue after the pandemic is under control. Photo taken by Collin Heath.

That all changed when the COVID-19 pandemic came to Tennessee. Now she’s been working from home, sometimes in her pajamas, she acknowledged. 

“Honestly, I do enjoy being able to get up and not having to worry about getting ready, putting on makeup and packing a lunch,” said Heath, 57, who has brown hair and wears glasses.

 “And I enjoy not driving 50 minutes every day to get to work.”

However, this destination change has caused her work to explode in activity, making her job much harder than before the pandemic. “I am more likely to work overtime because I am at home and do not have to travel in the evening,” Heath said.

In fact, the pandemic has made her daily routine entirely different.

“I don’t get up quite as early. I get up about an hour later than usual since I do not have to drive that hour anymore. I also usually shower in the evening now instead of in the morning,” Heath said. “Most of the time, I will go the entire work week without leaving the house at all.”

Since nobody will see her that much, she often works in her sleeping clothes and does not wear makeup anymore. The only time she leaves the house is to buy groceries on the weekend or perhaps to go out for a cocktail, music and some evening fun with a friend.

While she has been forced to change her daily routine, Heath doesn’t worry that much about getting infected by the virus.

“To be honest, I have not really been that concerned about it. It’s not something I think about every day,” Heath said.

Heath also said that she hasn’t let herself feed into the fear of the coronavirus that she believes the media puts out.

Despite the significant changes to her work schedule, Heath has learned a few things about herself and what she wants going forward.

“I have learned that I do enjoy working from home than going into a corporate environment,” Heath said. “That’s what I will prefer going forward, so if that means finding a new job remotely, then that’s what I will do.”

Story above by Collin Heath

Lucas Lanius

Murfreesboro, Tennessee

I left for work feeling drowsy. Winter was bearing down. It was cold. I chalked up the tiredness to lack of sleep and too much caffeine. When I returned home that day, I napped for two hours and woke up feeling very warm, my first real clue that I really was ill. A hot shower helped, but I still didn’t feel very good. My head ached, and it felt like someone was pressing their hands as hard as they could on my face.

COVID-19 not only made him ill, separating himself from his girlfriend and family for several weeks. The pandemic also led to a significant loss of hours at his part-time job, which squeezed him financially. Photo contributed by Lanius.

COVID-19 crossed my mind, but I hoped it was just a bad sinus infection. The last thing I wanted was to have to quarantine and isolate myself for over a week. I went the next day to CareNow and told them my symptoms, and I was immediately swabbed for a rapid COVID-19 test. My results came back positive, and I was told to go home under the 10-day quarantine rule.

I went home disappointed and with my head racing, wondering what will happen to me. I told my girlfriend our plans we had made were going to be postponed.

The first few days during my quarantine were the worst. I ran a fever as high as 104.1 degrees, and I shook harder than I ever had in my life. That Saturday afternoon at about 4 p.m., I lay in bed, covered in blankets and a bed spread. I shook uncontrollably and was desperate for sleep that would hopefully ease away the sickness.

The days after that were okay; my fever and headaches subsided. Riding out the remainder of my quarantine sucked. I couldn’t see my girlfriend other than on FaceTime or Zoom, and I couldn’t leave my room for 10 days. Her family brought a care basket while I was isolated, filled with healthy snacks, water and medicine, to help make the process less arduous. I was so happy when I was released from my quarantine, and I do not ever want to have to experience that again. It felt as though I was released from jail for something I didn’t do.

It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.

But that’s not the only way COVID-19 would affect my life. In mid-March, my boss rolled up to me as I was on a zero-turn mower at the golf course where I work part-time and told me my work hours were trimmed to eight per week.

For six weeks I survived on a paycheck of about $150 every two weeks, and that really scared me. I’ve always been a saver, but I didn’t have enough savings to compensate for such an abrupt change to my income. That was a wakeup call for me, and the gravity of the pandemic hit me hard when I heard that. Thankfully, I kept my job, but it was not fun at all having to scrape together pennies over those few weeks.

I want COVID-19 to end soon. I’ve had COVID, experienced it, and fortunately survived. Let’s hope this ends soon so that we can all go back to what was without the limitations of social distancing, masking, and daily digests of new cases and deaths.  

Story above by Lucas Lanius



COVID-19 was a concern of Becky Williams’, who’s worked at a Winchester doctor’s office for four years, even before the first case was reported in the United States.

Working at a doctor’s office made Becky Williams anxious that she might catch the coronavirus and spread it to her family. But she felt obligated to serve the public health community by continuing to work.. Photo by Lankford.

“I was worried, but I didn’t think it’d turn into this epidemic,” said Williams, 46, a round-faced woman with shoulder-length brown hair. “I thought it’d be a minor outbreak and then go on.” 

Her worry turned into fear as she watched the number of cases increase daily. She understood her job made her risk of contracting the virus higher, and that led her to worry for her family’s sake.   

“I was scared because being in the medical field, you’re exposed and could bring it home to your family,” she said. “My husband has underlying conditions. He could possibly catch it and die.”

At the doctor’s office, Williams was responsible for screening patients, putting her on the front line for catching the virus. Personal protection equipment such as gowns, masks, shields, and gloves acted as her only defense. However, wearing the gear hid Williams’ friendly, welcoming smile, consequently affecting her connection with her patients.

Even though Williams feared the virus, she believed it was her duty to help her community.

“All of us health care workers had to come together to help battle—not that we could do anything—but we could help spread education and let people know this is serious,” she said. 

Williams tested negative three times for COVID-19, but that didn’t stop her fear from leaving. Her 27-year-old daughter tested positive for the virus while three-months pregnant with Williams’ second grandchild. 

“I was deathly scared,” Williams said, a frown forming on her forhead. “It was so new. They didn’t know the long-term effects of COVID, and especially in pregnant women. What kind of effect it would have on the fetus or the baby coming out? Or would the baby come out positive? Would the baby have respiratory distress?”

Williams was relieved when her daughter overcame the virus and gave birth to a healthy baby boy months later. 

Williams continues to take the pandemic seriously, even though some restrictions have lifted. She’s received both doses of the vaccine, but her mind has not yet eased.

“I am still scared of it as the day it came over a year ago. There are new strands [of the virus] that can be caught easier than COVID-19. They know it’s a strand of COVID, but they don’t know what the strand is.”

Williams believes COVID-19 will still be here a year from now, but if people become vaccinated and take precautions, there is a chance the virus can be controllable. Until then, Williams said she will continue to take precautions and fulfill her duties as a health-care worker.

Story above by Kaitlyn Lankford



On November 16, 2020, Alexandra Simmons tested positive for COVID-19 and found herself in quarantine, off from work as a server at California Pizza Kitchen.

Dealing with the symptoms of the coronavirus were only part of the trials and tribulations associated with the illness. Having to quarantine alone and the idea of having no income for two weeks just added to her anxiety.

Simmons had horrible headaches in the beginning and lost her sense of smell and taste, which only lasted for a couple days, unlike some who lose these senses for several weeks when contracting COVID-19. 

Quarantining was a lonely experience, Simmons said. The first week was a time of restlessness, anxiety attacks and boredom. Like many people in quarantine, she turned to Netflix and binge watching. Then she tried reading. Neither kept her entertained for long.

“There was only so much I could do by myself in my little apartment, and two weeks doesn’t sound bad, but that first week felt like a month, and then you realize you still have another week to go,” she said.

“Television got old quick, and as soon as I got my sense of taste back, I started cooking immediately, which seemed to take up a lot more time in my days, and I got a good meal out of it,” she said. Cooking seemed to help her deal with her time in isolation. 

Although the boredom and loneliness was rough, taking time out of work was the worst consequence. The stimulus checks were helpful in paying off some bills, but she needed to work to stay on top of her financial situation, Simmons said. When she was cleared to return to work, she took on extra shifts so she could make up the paychecks she had missed by being sick. 

“I wouldn’t wish COVID on anyone, mainly because of the financial burden it causes and the stress.” 

Story above by Abigail Ostovich



Joshua Fritts survived coronavirus but eight months later is still reeling from the effects. Fritts, who works at an Amazon warehouse, was infected with COVID-19 in August of 2020. He believed his father brought it home from his workplace where one of several asymptomatic co-workers spread the disease. Josh and his mother became ill, and the entire family went into a voluntary quarantine and was sick for a couple of weeks.

“I was in quarantine at my house for about 16 days, and I was out of work for a little over four weeks. Amazon would not let me go back to work until I got tested twice to make sure that I was no longer sick and that I could not infect my co-workers. It was very hard to be off work because I had just started there, fulltime,” Fritts said.

The path to being healthy again was a long one. His symptoms included a runny nose, coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue and body aches, but the worst was losing the senses of smell and taste.

“It was awful not being able to taste anything. I couldn’t taste anything for over four months. When I got sick, my taste went away really quickly, but it came back very, very slowly. It was very weird not being able to taste anything at all,” said the 20-year-old blond-haired, blue-eyed man. 

Being in quarantine could be summed up in one word: boredom, Fritts noted. He said he streamed a lot of “Dr. Who” episodes and played his guitar a lot. 

“Honestly, quarantine was very boring. I had it better since all of my family was under quarantine, and I could roam around the house if I wanted so I wasn’t just holed up in my room the entire time,” he said.

Despite the boredom, quarantine was relaxing, “If I’m being honest.” No rush to get to work or take care of the mundane activities of life. All he had to do was get better, Fritts said.

Of course, he was concerned about how sick he would get. “Since I got COVID at the very beginning (of the pandemic), it seemed like no one knew what was happening, and no one could tell me how sick I would get. It really scared me because I didn’t know how sick my parents would get, and with them being in their 50’s, it worried me a lot. The not knowing anything was the worst part of the entire experience,” Fritts said.

Story above by Roni Portzen



Traveling from his family’s farm to Ormond Beach, Fla. for a summer vacation in June 2020, Baxter Dillard, a sophomore at MTSU, was exposed to the coronavirus.

MTSU student became ill with COVID-19 while on a family vacation to the beach. The quarantine period was the worst part, but he managed, he said. Photo contributed by Dillard.

Out of the nine members of his family who went on the trip to the oceanfront Airbnb, Dillard was one of two family members who caught Covid-19. Although he can’t be for sure, his father, who may have been exposed at church, may have inadvertently brought the illness to his family.

According to a study at the University of Florida, one in five Covid-19 patients contracted the virus from a member of their own household. 

Baxter’s father, 58-year-old Richard Dillard Sr. is the owner of a Century Farm north of Nashville. The 156-acre cattle farm has been in the Dillard family since 1858. Richard Sr. is active at a church in Joelton. Baxter noted that prior to their family’s Covid-19 outbreak that his Dad attended a church service where most people did not wear masks. A family member who is a nurse warned everyone on the trip to self-isolate prior to the vacation because of the danger of a large group coming together in close quarters for an extended amount of time.  

Dillard said he was tested for coronavirus while on the family vacation and learned he was positive. He didn’t return to his Murfreesboro apartment and his three roomates after the Florida trip. Instead, he was given a place to isolate at his brother’s house. 

“I had a room, an air fryer and a freezer to myself. I felt congested, and after a few days I lost my sense of taste,” Dillard said. “I had difficulties breathing while I was laying down. It felt like a stack of books was on my chest. You kind of get used to it, I became numb.” 

Over six months have passed since the Dillard family had their run-in with COVID-19. He said it’s been a lesson learned for all of them. Even if his father was the one who passed on the coronavirus, “we can’t do anything but love him in the end,” said Dillard. “We can’t hold that kind of resentment toward them.” 

Whenever America reaches the end of the pandemic, it’s going to be crucial to come together with one another in order to bring us back to some sense of normalcy, Dillard noted. 

Story above by Connor Schmitz



Last year when the pandemic arrived, I had no idea what challenges the next year would present for me. The truth was, I already had many challenges facing me. During my senior year of high school I was homeless, couch hopping at the homes of high school peers. My mother and stepdad had recently divorced. He was an alcoholic and she moved to Murfreesboro to start a new life.

By the time COVID-19 came along, it had already been a rough year for Angelina Soto, an MTSU freshman. She was homeless for a time and then the pandemic led to a layoff. She also lost a dear friend to the disease. Photo contributed by Soto.

I struggled mentally, physically, and financially during this year of the coronavirus, like so many others. I lost my job due to COVID. I lost someone who was like a grandmother to me due to COVID. I was heartbroken by the end of a four-year relationship, and to top it off, I only had $100 dollars to my name. It took me a month and a half to find another job. 

When COVID-19 arrived last spring, my high school was shut down, and the family who was allowing me stay in their home moved away. That was my sign to move to Murfreesboro with my mom since I was going to enroll in MTSU in the fall anyway.

But soon enough, I was on my own again as my mother was laid off due to COVID-19 and she moved away, leaving me to pay the rent, buy groceries and keep the lights on. I found a job, but was laid off again when the second spike of COVID hit in the summer. 

I applied for SNAP benefits to at least help with groceries when I started at MTSU. I was denied just because I conveniently had too much money in my bank account to be considered “poor enough.” What little money I had went to pay for the basic essentials.

Story above by Angelina Soto



As the world approaches the first anniversary of the global pandemic, my grandfather, 64-year-old Kent Watson of Pulaski, is now a believer in the COVID-19 crisis.  He should. He nearly died after being hospitalized with the illness. 

After nearly dying from COVID-19, Kent Watson now believes the pandemic is real. Before contracting the disease, he wasn’t sure that it was more than media hype. Still recovering, he still has doubts about mask wearing, but he will take the vaccine. Photo taken by B. Watson.

But he still has doubts about mask mandates and vaccinations. 

On Friday, Dec.17, 2020, my grandfather was rushed to Maury Regional Medical Center complaining of shortness of breath. While in the hospital, he was immediately given 100 percent of supplemental oxygen to help him breathe. He was so close to dying, doctors asked that if his case worsened, could they put him on a ventilator or restart his heart. Kent agreed to both options, noting that when you’re being asked that question, the virus is pretty severe. 

Due to the hospitalization, my grandfather had to spend his birthday, December 21, and Christmas in the hospital. His only visitors were nurses, who did their best to make him feel less lonely, he said. He was finally released from Maury Regional Medical Center on December 27, and his long recovery process began.

Actually, he remains in recovery, finding himself losing breath when he exerts himself. When shutdowns first began, Kent questioned the virus and its reality, wondering if COVID-19 was a political tactic. After experiencing the coronavirus, his tune is different. “I know it can be awful serious now.” 

Even so, he still chafes at wearing a mask. “I still don’t wear a mask. The only place where I actually wear one is in doctor’s offices where they require it.” My dad said he understands the need to wear a mask, but remains skeptical of a mask mandate and wonders if masks can protect from the virus.    

Likewise, he is ambivalent about the vaccine. Before he contracted COVID-19 he decided not to be inoculated. Since his hospital stay, however, he’s changed his mind, even though he’s suspicious that the vaccine was created too fast and there’s too many unknown aspects about the vaccine. Although he is scheduled to receive the vaccine soon, he hopes that none of his suspicions are true.   

Story above by Brianna Watson



In the aftermath of a romantic relationship that didn’t survive the socially distant isolation of COVID-19, Marie (she asked her real name not be used) said she has used the time to learn how to love herself and focus on being happy.

“I just felt like my priorities with school, and the sorority and work and focusing on myself were more important than a relationship that I wasn’t happy in, so I broke up with him,” the MTSU junior said.

The couple met at a Murfreesboro restaurant where both worked. There was flirting for around a year and they hung out after work multiple times, but never pursued a relationship with one another.

Their romantic relationship began after Marie was in a horrible accident that totaled her car.

He was the first person she called, and he reportedly rushed to the scene where he told her he had been “upset and very scared” for her.

This nerve-wracking turn of events forced them to confront their feelings for one another and they began dating at the beginning of the summer of 2020, just as the pandemic lockdown went into effect. 

For this couple, their COVID-19 summer of social distancing quickly illuminated their differences.  

Marie is a 21-year-old, brunette, Tears for Fears fanatic enrolled in the Jones College of Business who likes being out of the house and trying new things during the summer. 

“He’s a homebody, and I wasn’t happy with that because I wanted somebody who was going to be as equally as adventurous as I was, and he was quick to disagree with any suggestions I had.”

Marie insisted that there had been plenty of times where she’d bring up COVID-19 safe date ideas and that he declined doing all these, and she believed that he “thrived in COVID,” using it as an excuse to never go anywhere.

By fall semester, the coronavirus strained their relationship to a breaking point.  

“I had to work, school was so much, I wanted to see my friends, but I could only see them in such a weird fashion because of COVID.”

The fall welcoming events on campus were cancelled. 

“There was nothing to do, there was nothing for us to do to break him out of his comfort zone, and also to make me happy, and he really wasn’t even willing to meet my friends or anything.”

In the end, Marie realized COVID’s power was transformative, as a disease and as a force for life values. 

“I just think that COVID really has changed me,” she said, “and it’s changed him. It’s really made me reflect on what I value and how I want to spend my time, and our values just don’t line up.”

Marie confessed that dating during COVID-19 made her unwilling to look for another partner right now, and she wants to focus on her relationships with friends and family.

She said that people shouldn’t be looking to others for comfort and happiness, and they should find it in themselves first.

The conclusion of her nearly eight-month relationship brought to light realizations about herself that helped Marie cope with the loss. “In a time where being alone was one of my biggest fears, I feel like I grew so much in my independence and being confident in myself. I don’t need a man to be happy, I need to seek stuff out on my own.”

Story above by Kylie Wellington



Deon Curry left MTSU last March during spring break for a week-long visit with family and friends in The Bahamas. Curry, 18, was an international freshman student who spoke with a thick tropical accent. The trip was supposed to be a short break from his first semester of studies in Tennessee.

When Deon Curry returned to his home in The Bahamas in March of 2020, he had no idea he wouldn’t return to campus until late summer. He’s happy to be back at MTSU continuing his studies. Photo taken by White.

However, this break turned into a four month lock down as the COVID-19 pandemic’s reach began to appear in all countries. While he was at his parent’s home in The Bahamas, MTSU announced that all classes for the rest of the semester would be going fully online. Before he could even think about returning to Murfreesboso, the Bahamian government closed their borders to all outside visitors and implemented a countrywide curfew. No one could travel in or out. 

At this point, Curry was happy he decided to fly home for spring break. Otherwise he would have been alone in America. Even though he couldn’t return to campus, he was home surrounded by family. 

For the next few months like millions of other college students, Curry finished his first semester through Zoom classes. 

“It sucked,” he said about schooling during the pandemic. He talked about the isolation he felt not being able to see his teachers, his friends or even being able to leave his house. He finished the semester with a high GPA but was uncertain if he would be able to come back to MTSU. His country considered the U.S. to be a hot spot for the virus and was taking every precaution necessary.

After months of isolating in the Bahamas, Curry got the news that he could return to campus for the fall semester. He prepared to leave his country, which included a negative COVID-19 test within five days of his flight back to the states. 

By mid-August Curry was back on MTSU’s campus and starting his 14-day quarantine. Deon left isolation just to be put back in another one, but he didn’t mind. “I was happy to be back in the U.S. Being able to get my education on track.”

Story above by Darius White



My grandmother, Diane Blackburn was a woman of elegance who spent her life giving and caring for people. COVID-19 took this woman, who many agree had a kind heart and had a motherly affection for everyone.

Diane Blackburn was one of the more than 500,000 Americans who died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Her granddaughter, Kyra Williams, an MTSU student, called her a “woman of elegance.” Photo contributed by Blackburn.

Diane was born on April 8, 1954 in Detroit, Michigan. She was the second eldest of nine children. Although her mother was firm, there was always a lot of love and fun to go around as well. As a child, she was a dancer and a cheerleader. She and her younger brother, Floyd, won a local dance competition three years in a row.

While attending high school, she lived with her grandmother, also in Detroit. Her grandmother worked at the local Goodwill store and always kept her looking nice. According to her sister Felicia, “She’s always been a flashy dresser and set fashion trends.” Her sense of style followed her well into her adult life.

Early on, my grandmother began working in the fast-food industry. She later found her calling being certified nursing assistant. Originally, she set her sights on becoming a nurse. “She wanted to care for people, but she didn’t want to deal with the politics of caring for people,” said Felicia. She cared for people in nursing homes for over 30 years.

My grandmother always carried a nurturing spirit. Among the oldest of her siblings, she spent a great deal of time raising her younger brothers and sisters. As a teenager, she dispensed motherly advice to others even before she had children of her own. After bearing her own children, she was a natural mother. Diane was not only motherly to her own children, but to other children as well. 

“Several people lived with us, and she took people in all the time,” said her son, Ahmad. If there was a person in need, she cared for them. 

I always knew my grandmother to be an honest and loyal person. “If she was your friend, she was your friend,” said Felicia.

She did not gossip or spread rumors about others. Her friends could be sure that if they told her something in confidence, she would keep it to herself. She was giving, kindhearted and straightforward with love. The way that she modeled her life is something for which we should all strive. 

My grandmother entered the hospital in late January due to COVID-19 virus. She was placed on a ventilator and closely monitored as she improved. Doctors began to slowly wean her from the ventilator, but sadly, she suffered from a stroke and was left with minimal to no brain activity. She died on February 10, 2021 surrounded by her two children. Her memory and her legacy will live on forever through her children, grandchildren, and the generations to come.

Story above by Kyra Williams



After attending a party in September 2020 shortly after classes began at Middle Tennessee State University, Allie Tenpenny, 19, contracted COVID-19. She was asymptomatic, and without realizing she was ill, she infected her roommates.

Attending a party early in the Fall 2020 semester led Allie Tenpenny to be infected by COVID-19 and she passed it on to several roommates. Being in quarantine challenged her mental and physical health, she said. Photo contributed by Tenpenny.

Tenpenny is 5-foot 8-inches tall and has long, brunette hair. She was born and raised in Jackson. She is majoring in elementary education and currently works part time as a teacher for special education.  

Tenpenny lives on Greek Row in the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority house. After attending the party where she believes she was infected, it was a week before she developed symptoms. By that time, her roommates were infected as well. 

“I thought everything would be fine. Since the party was at my boyfriend’s, and I’m around him all the time, I didn’t think much into it,” she said.  

Her initial symptoms consisted of a fever, headache and muscle aches. “When I started feeling this, I immediately went and got tested,” she said. After learning she was positive, she had one of her roommates pack a suitcase for her and bring it to her car. Tenpenny understood what came next: quarantine.

“I was very upset that I had tested positive for COVID-19, because it was around the same time as sorority recruitment which I knew I wouldn’t be able to attend anymore,” Tenpenny said. She was in quarantine for almost 3 weeks. She was required by the university’s health services department to isolate for an extra week as a precaution before returning to live on campus.

Initially, she was going to quarantine at her boyfriend’s house so she did not have to drive back to Jackson, but she thought better of that idea. She didn’t want to spread the illness to her boyfriend or his roommates.  

Being in quarantine was a challenge to her mental and physical health, Tenpenny noted. She felt very alone not being able to see her friends and family. She lost her appetite and consequently shed pounds, but it’s not a prescription for weight loss that she’d recommend.  

Before her illness, Allie believed the threat from the coronavirus was real, but only for older people. When she took to her sick bed, Tenpenny said her mind braced for the worst, believing she could end up in the hospital.

“I have really bad asthma and was scared for my life that my lungs would collapse, and I wouldn’t be able to breathe,” Tenpenny said. Luckily, her illness never approached the need for hospitalization, but she did experience shortness of breath during her sickness, which also made anxiety level rise. 

After her experience, Tenpenny said she wants others her age to know the seriousness of the coronavirus and how easily it can spread. Feeling fine now and fully recovered, the future elementary school teacher has been vaccinated. She encourages everyone to roll up their sleeve and do the same.

Story above By Summer Lester

To contact News Editor Toriana Williams, email

For more news, visit, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News 

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