photo by Liv Pierog

photo by Liv Pierog

Class of COVID-19: Looking back on the lock-down

Liv Pierog




Picture this: it’s Fall 2019 and you’re a freshman at Plymouth State. Pirate Party is on Winter Street, “The Box” by Roddy Rich is playing, and you’re thinking you and the homies might stop by Tedeschi’s on Main Street after for a snack. Nothing bad has ever happened to you. 

Most current PSU students may not have experienced Plymouth pre-COVID. Members of the class of ‘20, ‘21, ‘22, and ‘23 had the unique and bizarre experience of being Panthers before, during, and after the global pandemic. Key differences can be seen now in how people have been affected socially and academically by COVID, most of our current undergraduate students have been in high school since before the pandemic. It is significant to have been a part of that group of students in a lot of obviously negative ways like missing out on certain times and experiences, but also positive ways that now reflect who we are as a student body. 

Similarly, the school’s infrastructure has changed constantly since word of COVID first spread on the news. I was in a friend’s dorm in Geneva Smith Hall sometime in December 2019 when I first heard the word “coronavirus”. My friends and I laughed about not sharing drinks or vapes with other people. 

photo by Liv Pierog

We came back to school in January 2020. I remember sitting in Thai Smile with a few close friends who moved in early before everyone else had come back, it was too snowy to dig our car out and drive so we walked layered in our big jackets. It was only 7 PM but it was so dark out, and the streetlights on Main were this very warm yellow-orange, casting this dreamy light over everything. We talked about how we hated upperclassmen acting like they were better than us just because we were freshmen, and how we never wanted to go home. Plymouth was our home now. We talked about how we would graduate together one day.

As a couple of 18-year-old freshmen huddling in a booth at Thai Smile, it seemed so impossibly far away; now our class of 2023 graduation has already come and gone. None of us there that night graduated together. Most didn’t make it to see their upperclassman years at Plymouth. Myself and many other undergrad students were forced to complete degrees in more than 4 years due to any number of COVID-related issues. But we didn’t know that then, nor did we know that a global pandemic was about to sweep our legs out from under us. We just sat in front of the window and watched the snow fall softly on Main Street.

In March the school shut down due to COVID sweeping the US, and everyone had to leave, not knowing when we could return. Well, some of us (me) couldn’t stay away and made a deal with the school to live on campus in Merrill and wait tables at a nearby establishment as “Essential Workers” over the Summer of 2020. Summer in Plymouth is and always will be a slow and hazy tourist daydream, but it was EXTRA slow that summer. Many businesses were boarded up or working at half capacity. Townies came out of the woodwork to make sure Plymouth stayed mischievous, of course. Once that summer some locals and I floated down the Pemi River, the part under the I-93 overpass, and not one car drove over it as we slowly drifted under and past the usually busy bridge. 

photo by Liv Pierog

August 2020, masks were now mandatory everywhere, Donald Trump was President, egging on right-wing extremists and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, the summer was hot with tension brewing over the Black Lives Matter movement and public outrage from the murder of George Floyd at the hands of ongoing police violence. There were pretty significant riots and overtones of civil unrest in cities across America that summer. Many PSU students used this time to speak and stand in solidarity with citizens across the US in the streets at protests or online, social distancing, from home. As Fall 2020 rolled around, classes resumed hybrid. It was mostly up to the professor whether they held their class remotely or in person, which meant most students had to manage both in-person and online classes throughout the week. 

Like other USNH schools, Plymouth “required” students to COVID test on a weekly basis. Compliance with mandated weekly testing would earn you a really cool “PANTHERSUNITED” neon wristband you had to keep on at all times or else you were barred from the dining hall and campus events that required a scan in. Students could, for a limited time, keep track of their tests and status via the PantherPass app which was actually just a home screen shortcut to a website that partnered with a diagnostics lab for results.

 If your test came back COVID positive, you and your roommate were quarantined. Many students who had COVID were ejected from campus and quarantined either by themselves or with others at the Fairfield Inn and Suites, with daily D-hall packages delivered to them. It was genuinely traumatic for some, but most just look back on it now as a funny memory of yet another time we were forced to improvise. 

At first, we had extremely low and manageable numbers of positive tests on campus, then after the first two weeks cases skyrocketed. Despite Pirate Party being canceled, people did not follow social distancing protocols on campus through Halloween resulting in an astronomical number of cases leading up to Thanksgiving. COVID won.

This growing number of infected students and the looming danger of students bringing the virus to and from their homes over the Thanksgiving holiday caused the Plymouth State Administration to extend “Thanksgiving break” 2 months until after New Year’s. Students were not immediately allowed back on campus to get their belongings. Some students were displaced. Many never came back to school. And in January just before we were allowed to return to Plymouth, the world reached a devastating 2 million dead globally due to COVID-19.

That Spring was cold and bleak. Many people were really sick with COVID, some were grieving. Most classes were fully online at this point in an attempt to prevent another outbreak. That was a personally rough semester for me, I vividly recall packing all my things up from my Merrill dorm room all by myself at the end of the semester. I slammed the trunk of my car shut and drove away cursing Plymouth State University AND my roommate with whom I had shared a double with all year that we pretty much were not allowed to leave. I literally never saw or heard from her ever again after that day. She never returned to Plymouth.

Photo by Luke Young

That summer was healing for everyone, I think. Although COVID deaths were nearing 5 Million globally, slowly mask mandates began to lift and people actually started to go out again. I returned to Plymouth in the Fall of my Junior year – but I didn’t feel like a Junior. It felt like I had never been a real Plymouth student before and that I was a Freshman all over again, scared to make new friends and deal with ResLife and Financial Aid, register for classes, it seemed scary and impossible to even leave my dorm room at times.

It was hard, but many clubs and organizations were thawing out from the Pandemic and coming to new life again. We were able to come back to Plymouth, a new Plymouth, changed by COVID.

Tedeschi’s and some other landmarks closed, but about half a dozen new shops and restaurants popped up on Main Street. Poke Bowl, Yamas, Plymouth Soap Works, Groovy Noodle, Patty Shack, and Aroma Joes ALL came to Plymouth in the last 3 years. Now I would consider each of them their own local staple.

Plymouth State’s student engagement team has significantly ramped up the amount of school-sanctioned events that happen throughout the week, old and new clubs are meeting regularly in full capacity and growing in membership. Students entering the school from this point on will have no idea what it was like to be a part of the Plymouth State Community during the COVID pandemic, or what it was like to live on any college campus at that time. Coming back into truly normal post-COVID life means reflecting on what we just went through as a school and how it changed us. We’re not the same Plymouth State we once were, but students here now and moving forward are writing a new narrative of a post-COVID PSU experience.