Spears seniors handle unprecedented final semester with poise
Gracie Szakin had few concerns in early March. She was midway through her final semester at Oklahoma State University, preparing to put the final touches on the relatively easy 13-hour semester she had orchestrated so she would be able to spend extra time with friends.
The 21-year-old was looking forward to flying to Los Angeles over spring break to visit her brother, Zach. And, probably best of all, she had a job waiting for her after walking across the Gallagher- Iba Arena stage at commencement May 9.
But by April 15, the hospitality and tourism management major’s world had crumbled, just like those of Chandler Goodman, Caroline Riley and approximately 1,000 other Spears School of Business seniors whose lives were turned upside down by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
OSU announced March 12 — just days before Szakin was planning to board a flight to Los Angeles — that classes would be taught virtually for two weeks following spring break. Then, six days later on March 18, OSU officials said classes would be taught online for the rest of the spring semester. Students were only allowed back on campus to move out of their dorms and apartments.
It was almost incomprehensible to Szakin and the Class of 2020 that their college careers would be ending from the living rooms of their parents’ homes.
“It’s been a wild ride,” she said, describing some of her challenges:
- Three of her four classes (one already online) were moved to being taught virtually.
- She canceled her spring break trip to Los Angeles.
- She moved home to live with her parents.
- She missed out on the final two months of her senior year in Stillwater, including attending the Craft Beer Forum of Oklahoma, participating in several big events in her role with the Student Union Activities Board, spending time with her friends, and, of course, commencement.
- Her job offer as a revenue management analyst with Kriya RevGEN, a hotel management company in Grapevine, Texas, had been rescinded. The company wants to eventually hire her, but it will wait to see how the hospitality industry recovers following the pandemic.
“It would have been perfect. I had ended up picking out an apartment to be near my mom and dad,” she said. “Little did I know, I’d be even closer to them than that — actually living with them. I’ve been back on the job hunt. I love the hospitality industry and am excited to see what future opportunities will be available.”
Like Szakin, Caroline Riley had to return home. The Spears Business marketing graduate from Amarillo, Texas, spent the final months of her college experience in virtual classes from her parents’ dining room table, sitting across from her younger sister, Georgia, a sophomore at Texas A&M. She began her job in supply chain marketing in June with BNSF Railroad.
“I’m so thankful that I have a job because I know a lot of my friends don’t, and they are pretty worried,” she said.
"My mother, the great mother that she is, hugged me and said, 'Five years down the line, this will be something that you can tell everybody about. You will always be the Class of 2020.'"
Despite getting to spend more time with her tight-knit family before beginning her job, Riley was disappointed in all that she didn’t get to experience in Stillwater over the final weeks of college. She missed final events with her Alpha Chi Omega sorority sisters, participating in several Spears Ambassador service projects, assisting at Our Daily Bread food pantry in Stillwater and spending time with friends.
She hopes to be in Stillwater for the rescheduled December commencement exercises for the Class of 2020, but it may not be possible that soon after starting a new job. “I’m going to try my best to come back in December,” Riley said.
Chandler Goodman, who graduated with a finance degree, says returning to OSU for commencement is going to be a priority.
“I definitely will be walking in December because I want to have that ceremony for my memories moving forward,” he said. “I was afraid that I was not going to have a graduation, that we’d have some sort of virtual ceremony, which is great and all, but man, I went through four years of college to get a virtual degree? That’s not what I wanted.”
As with the other seniors, Goodman was not prepared to move back to his family’s home in Oklahoma City in mid-March.
“It’s not the ending of my college career that I had hoped for but then again, what are you going to do? This is where we’re at, and unfortunately this is the card that’s been dealt, and I’m not complaining because there are a lot more people in this world right now that are having a lot tougher time than just taking a few online classes.”
Goodman has gone to work handling the financial operations and managing Alta Mere Window Tinting and Paint Protection Film in Oklahoma City, owned and operated by his family. He was helping while finishing up school when the business shut down on March 26 following Gov. Kevin Stitt’s orders for all non-essential businesses to close.
Not one to sit idle while finishing up three online classes in the spring, Goodman and neighbor John-Crawford Counts, a graduating senior at Delta State University in Mississippi, partnered to open Pop-Up Pantry Oklahoma City. Counts’ father works for food industry distributor Sysco, which teamed up with restaurants and other businesses during the shutdown to sell Sysco products directly to consumers.
Goodman was determined to make the best of the circumstances.
“Anybody who wants to come up to me and say, ‘Chandler, I’m so sorry,’ or ‘Chandler, this is terrible, and I can’t imagine what you’re going through’ — you’re right, this is not ideal,” he said. “I’m not enjoying this but in the grand reality, there are people who are losing their loved ones right now. There are people who are losing their jobs because of this. There are people whose lives have been turned completely upside down because of this.
“The thing I keep telling myself and what I want everybody to know, if I can use my voice for anything, is that we will get through this and that this is just a small speed bump on the road of life.”
Goodman’s attitude is one that will help him succeed when he faces other obstacles.
“My mother, the great mother that she is, hugged me and said, ‘Five years down the line, this will be something that you can tell everybody about. You will always be the Class of 2020.’ All of us who are graduating in 2020 will have this sort of bond because of our schooling being cut short.
“I can’t wait until five or 10 years down the line when I’m sitting down with my friends and being able to say, ‘Hey, that was crazy, but we got through it and here we are. It was just a small speed bump along the road.’ That is something that has given me comfort. We’ll be able to look back and know we made it through this.”
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