Friday, March 13th, 2020 was the last normal day.
I knew the world was coming to a stop when I got to my editorial class. Editorial was a fourth-year capstone course for the journalism program and the closest thing to a real newsroom I had experienced. We were twelve students – twelve new friends – who pitched, wrote, shot and created content for the Calgary Journal under the guidance of our professor, Sean.
The atmosphere that day was nothing like the high-energy newsroom I had grown to love. The long table where we did our planning was half-empty. Easy-going Isaiah was wearing a protective mask. Calm and collected Daniel was furiously rearranging the whiteboard. Always put-together Sarah had traded her cardigans and lipstick for a plain hoodie. But most concerning was Sean, along with several other classmates, participating from the screen of a laptop.
Days earlier, Sean had been in contact with someone who had been exposed to COVID-19. He was now self-isolating. Several other classmates had either been exposed or were experiencing symptoms. Nobody had to say it; I knew immediately that even though our issue wasn’t set to be released until May, this would be the last time our group would ever meet.
“Here is what I am proposing,” said Sean. “We’re gonna need to do the layout and make all the cuts today. We have to fast-track this and prepare for worst-case scenario.”
We all nodded in agreement. Layout for the last issue took an hour-and-a-half, and cutting stories felt severe when we were supposed to have another week to work on them, but the world was not the same as it was when we created the last issue.
“My story will need three pages.”
“The school board hasn’t called me back yet, so you can cut mine.”
“Let’s open with the society section.”
“Laura, are you cool with being the closer?”
It couldn’t have taken more than thirty minutes to slap together what would wind up being the May/June issue of the Calgary Journal. No one was particularly pleased with the result, but no one was disappointed, either. We were not privy to the luxury of disappointment.
When it was all said and done, Sean gave us one last farewell. I couldn’t shake the feeling that we would never see him again.
We were free to go, but we were in no rush. The seven of us who had made it to class simply sat in a circle, reflecting on how far we had come, acknowledging that this class was not what we had in mind. “This feels like the ending to some stupid teen movie,” Andrea said, and we all laughed.
But under that laughter lurked fear. Fear of losing our jobs, our internships. Fear that commencement would be cancelled, that grad school would be off the table. Fear of being the first person to leave our circle.
Fear that Friday, March 13th, 2020, would be the last normal day.
We were right about all of it.