One year later: Ivy League education at home during pandemic

Female college student at desk.
Anna Kasun, a graduate of Tuscarora High in Leesburg, Va., is now a freshman at Columbia University. She’s attending from her family’s home since classes are all online. (Courtesy Anna Kasun)

Nothing goes as expected. That’s been the theme for many of the high school graduates who belong to the Class of 2020.

Now college freshmen, they have arrived on campuses where dorm life is constricted, meals are taken out of the dining hall, and many classes are held via Zoom or with a mix of in-person and remote sessions.

But for 18-year-old Anna Kasun, a graduate of Tuscarora High School in Leesburg, Virginia, college life is conducted from home.

Kasun, a freshman at Columbia University in New York City, found out weeks before planning her move that classes would be held remotely. It was a disappointment, and not just for her. She said her mother felt badly, but they both came around to see “this time is really a gift.”

There was another change in all their lives: a move from Leesburg to Monmouth County, New Jersey. So everyone was making adjustments, and being together was a positive. Plus, Kasun adds, “I don’t think I was ready to leave them yet, honestly.”

While she may not be on campus, she’s still experiencing the rigors of academic life in her studies.

Kasun is taking calculus, core classes on writing and literature and said there were moments where the workload left her doubting herself. “It can make you feel like you’re not smart enough to be there” she said.

Kasun soon found out she wasn’t alone, even though those discussions with newfound friends didn’t happen in a dorm room or at the campus library. COVID-19 she said, has made people more open about how they’re feeling.

“I think it’s sort of a newer thing, to really be vocal about your mental health. And I think that really helped me to find out that I’m not the only one feeling this way.”

Kasun said she is considering a double major of Economics and Film or Acting, and has been active in a Columbia University tradition, the Varsity Show, first established in 1894.

The group has been rehearsing via Zoom, then they finally decided to hold a socially distanced outdoor meetup.

When they met in person, Kasun said, they all had the same, strange feeling. Arriving at the assigned meeting point, they had no idea who to look out for.

They had seen each other’s faces up close on screen since classes started, but from a distance, they didn’t recognize each other.

“Seeing somebody in person after knowing them for months — and then not really recognizing them — is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”

But Kasun said, “I’ve actually made some really good friends and I’m excited to actually get to hang out with them in the next few years.”

The thing she looks forward to once the pandemic is over? It’s an answer that will sound familiar, because other students interviewed by WTOP said the same thing: to go outside without a mask.

And Kasun adds, “I just miss smiling at people and having other people smile at me. It’s like instant serotonin for me. It’s a very basic answer, but it’s true.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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