One year later: College, coronavirus from Fairfax County grad’s perspective

It’s nearly a year after graduation ceremony hopes were dashed for students like 19-year-old Andrea Darmawan of Fairfax County, Virginia.

Andrea Darmawan, 18, of Fairfax County, (Courtesy Andrea Darmawan)

Last June, Darmawan, a graduate of Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, spoke to WTOP about graduating during a pandemic. This spring, she talked to WTOP about college life as schools begin to reopen and vaccines become more widely available.

Now a freshman at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Darmawan said she’s happy to be able to attend in person, even as some of her classes split time between classroom and online instruction.

Darmawan, who is blind, said getting a feel for the layout of the campus was very important for her. Among the things that’s made a difference for her is how friendly students and staff were. She says it’s not uncommon for people to call out to her as she heads to classes.

“They’re really nice!” she said, and they don’t hesitate to help her when she needs directions.

Just as the coronavirus outbreak shaped the last half of her senior year in high school, it’s also having an impact on college life.

Masks are a must.

“We have to have masks on all the time. Even if we’re just going to the bathroom, we have to have the masks on,” she said.

An introvert by nature, Darmawan said she doesn’t feel she’s missing out on a lot when it comes to student social life.

“It was really funny because my roommate is also super-introverted. I guess that’s one area where it’s helpful to be introverted because you’re not exposing yourself” to contracting the virus, she said.

It’s not uncommon for college freshmen to suffer from homesickness, and the coronavirus and the restrictions it has imposed can amplify that. But Darmawan said her toughest challenge has been time management.

“Three out of my four classes this semester are all on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so Tuesdays and Thursdays I am exhausted!” she said.

Darmawan said something that also blunts any sense of isolation is her continued friendship with several younger friends from high school.

“I have a really, really strong friend group from high school,” she said, explaining that some of her closest friends at Robinson Secondary School were a year or two behind her.

“I am giving them the live preview” of what college life is like, she said.

The dining hall experience is something that’s been tweaked due to the coronavirus, with meals served outside when possible.

“Last fall, they had outdoor tents so people could eat outside. And this week, they brought them back because it’s starting to warm up again,” she said.

She intended to major in political science, and said the events of the past year have cemented that for her. Darmawan said her classes are engaging and that this year has been a good year to be a political science major.

“You know you picked the right major when you like doing your homework!” she said.

As she looks ahead to a time when the coronavirus doesn’t restrict campus life, Darmawan said the first thing she’d want to do is travel.

“You see so many stories on the news about how there are so many people who are going to the beach and like, not following protocols, and the beach is the ultimate hot spot,” but she said that’s exactly where she wants to be — once it’s safe.

“I miss the ocean. I’ll go back someday,” Darmawan said.

More on WTOP’s retrospective on the COVID-19 crisis

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.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner and republished with permission. Sign up for’s free email subscription today.


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