As we end this surreal online semester brought about by the COVID-19 crisis that stilled our campus, our city, our state, our nation and world, I asked my JOUR 257 Feature and Interpretive Writing class students to add one last assignment to their now-online course: a personal essay.  I wanted the students to not only write something for me but also for themselves. I am proud of what they produced: They explained the effects the abrupt changes has had on their college and personal lives. They shared how they coped with a totally online learning environment and quarantine orders to stay at home, wherever that might be.  Finally, they conveyed a message to others in this historic moment in their young lives.  

I have loved teaching beginning journalistic writing classes because the students come so far as they labor through weekly writing and reading assignments. This particular class also includes journals where they share with me not only exercises in feature writing components but also their own life experiences. So this assignment expands on that one piece of the class. 

They did show great progress, which is normal and as much a result of their efforts as my teaching. This time, though, was different for them and me. We worked together on how to learn solely online this five weeks, and I appreciate their patience with my efforts and necessary course adjustments.

I am pleased the students have agreed to share these with a wider audience, even though a few are too personal to carry bylines. Several declined to publish at all, and that is their right. I teach and preach to them that journalism is a rough draft of history. This is right time for them to do just that. I hope they keep writing throughout this ordeal and our transition to a new normal, whatever that might be to read later in their lives.  Eternal optimist that I am, I believe as many of these students do that we will all end up stronger for not just enduring it but living through it and learning just what is important in all our lives. 

Helen Fallon

Professor of Journalism

Honors Program director

The following stories are included in this personal essay assignment:

Leaving Downtown Pittsburgh Behind

Roadblocks and Struggles in Difficult Times

Sticking to Normal Routines in Uncertain Times

Struggling with Adjustments

To the Future: Take Expert Advice Seriously

Living with a Chronic Illness during a Pandemic

Watching the Pandemic Arise

Isolation from Family in Trying Times

Out of a Job, yet Hoping for Normalcy

Valuable Lessons from Coronavirus Pandemic Experience