No Commencement, Worried Parents, Life on Hold: College Students and COVID-19

April 8, 2020

Senior Jordan Gottsponer had planned to walk across the stage to graduate this May with a degree in marketing from the University of Central Arkansas. Instead, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s now looking for his college diploma in the mail. “People my age have never faced anything of this magnitude,” Jordan said. “It makes me reflect. I think about my relationship with God, about how fleeting life is, and about how I’m not invincible.” His routine lately has been “completely shattered.”

“I’m a planner,” said Catherine Watts, a sophomore at Arkansas State University. Having to take the rest of her classes online has brought stress, she said. “I have to go with the flow, to take information as it comes instead of being prepared. The unknown gives me stress and anxiety.”

“I struggle with depression and anxiety in my everyday life, but social distancing has made both worse,” said Maggie Fuller, a junior at the University of Arkansas and president of the local BCM. “Not having my support system physically with me when I need them has been difficult.”

All three students went back home to live with their parents for spring break. Maggie’s parents asked her to stay in her hometown of Cabot, but Maggie said they’ve agreed to let her go back to Fayetteville. “They are anxious in letting me go back (as expected), but they’re trusting me to make the right decisions in where I go and who I see.” Catherine’s mom shared her fears with her. “My mom’s biggest fear is that my roommate could get (the virus) and I’d be quarantined two hours away from Jonesboro where they live,” she said, adding that her mom said not seeing her daughter face-to-face if that happened would be tough.

Still, each of these students is learning to adjust to life on hold. An extrovert, Jordan said being away from people is a challenge. “It affects my spirit,” he said. “It’s been better though thanks to God and my college pastors who’ve been encouraging to me and who’ve pointed me in the right direction.” Ryan Scantling, his college minister, has created a Facebook page to keep in touch with students. “Zoom has been my best friend!” said Maggie, referring to the online app. “We’ve used this for committee meetings, BCM leadership training, meetings with my college pastor, and we’re trying out Zoom for Sunday school this Sunday.” The students go online now to worship, lead Bible studies, take prayer requests, and pray.

What would they tell other students whose lives have been upended? “I would remind them that God is ultimately in control,” said Catherine. “Even though we may not see it now, I’m sure He’s working this for the greater good.”

“I would say, ‘Do not fear, for God is with us,’” said Jordan. “That’s a very normal thing we say as believers, but it’s very true.” He’s had a chance to encourage others to not doubt but believe. God is greater than the coronavirus, he tells them. Finally, stay connected to God, said Catherine. “If you’re worried, sit quiet, listen, talk to God, and just vent,” she said. “Sit back and remember: He’ll get us through.”