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Covid-19 Would Not Break PSE Family Tradition

For the Strength of the Pack is the Wolf…..

As I look back over the past 5 years, it has been an amazing journey. Over my college career, I met tons of people, fell in love, became passionate about paper and found a second family. The paper science program, in my eyes, is the most amazing part of NC State, and I am lucky to have been a part of it.

Post Spring Break 

After spring break, I expected to arrive back to NC State and continue my hustled routine of running across campus, and long nights in Biltmore Hall with my senior design group. I looked forward to enjoying all the celebrations of senior year and having last “hoorahs”. But, that all came to a roaring stop when COVID-19 reared its ugly head. I expected my senior year to be a struggle to balance getting in those last moments with my friends and the demands of senior design, but instead I had to balance isolation and classwork.

Everything that I hoped to enjoy my last semester disappeared. All the major events I hoped to finally participate in as a senior were canceled: my last pulp and paper celebration banquet as a student, the senior banquet and the College of Natural Resources graduation. I hold these events dear to my heart because they all celebrate our paper family. At the celebration banquet, we get to see people in industry we have worked with, see our friends who just graduated and we recognize the seniors’ accomplishments. At the senior banquet, we celebrate with our faculty, families and fellow classmates.  Both are nights filled with laughs and final “hoorahs”. Then at graduation, we all walk across the stage with our classmates, who we have spent “grinding it out” with for the last four to five years. So, at the moment when we all needed celebration the most, in the face of isolation and fear, it was ripped away.

……and the Strength of the Wolf is the PACK! 

When everything occurred, the outbreaks and quarantine orders, I struggled to handle how we, as a university, would continue to carry on; how we would achieve some form of normal. I was upset and angry when this all happened, I wanted to have that last goodbye, drink in the last moments of college, then ride off into the sunset. I am an extrovert, so not seeing the faces of those who I spent most of my days with really hit me hard.

I wouldn’t be able to walk down Robertson Hall and peek my head in Paula and Jennifer’s office when I needed a good convo. I wouldn’t be able to finish my homework in the TAPPI lounge surrounded by my peers. I wouldn’t get interrupted by Dr. Jameel when I was working in the lounge. I wouldn’t pass Dr. Byrd in the hallway with his big grin. I wouldn’t be able to vent with all my friends over senior design. The little day-to-day joys of the paper program were gone. But just as hard as this virus hit us, we all hit back, as a university, a community, as a family.

It was so inspiring to watch as menial problems we fought about before the virus seemed to melt away. People were going out of their way to help strangers, people delivered food to those who couldn’t go out, face masks were being made in homes across the county, and appreciation to first responders and doctors poured out.  At the university, the celebrations we waited for all year would still go on. We may not have been able to meet in person, but Covid-19 could not keep our crazy paper family apart.   Georgia-Pacific started the events with mailing each senior a GIFT BOX, then, I was overjoyed when I got the email that the senior banquet would still go on. There were some workarounds, but as engineers, more specifically paper scientists, adaptability is in our nature. Every year the seniors make a video to poke fun of the faculty and the faculty poke fun at the seniors. So the seniors made a plan to create the skit virtually, utilizing the amazing features of Zoom virtual backgrounds, and some cinema level acting and editing, our skit came to life. We were able to still have just as much fun as if we were in person!  You can enjoy some of our videos and pictures as well.

“If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.” – Jim Valvano

The senior banquet was everything I had hoped for, and it may have been even more special due to the emotions of fear and isolation. We were able to come together as a family. It was great to see everyone and their families, to see how everyone was holding up, and to have a great event that reminisced on our time at NC State and our transition from students to paper makers. Surrounded by both my paper family and my biological family, I had the fullest day that I had had, in a long time. I laughed at watching the senior skit and the reactions. I was filled with pride as I watched my peer, Nick Starrett, as he addressed us with his farewell speech at our senior celebration on what was to be, our graduation day.   I thought about all the great memories I had made and how far everyone has come, and I cried at the sheer amount of love felt and having to say goodbye to a chapter of my life.

So even though I didn’t get to hug anyone and we weren’t gathered in a big ballroom with a plate of food in front of us, we still gathered as a family, and celebrated. I know that I will always hold this day in my heart, even in unforeseen and unprecedented times, we loved, laughed and cried as a family. This is the closing of a chapter in my life, but I know that my family will have my back as I enter into this new chapter. I am so grateful to have called Paper Science at NC State my home and family, and I know that one day I will pay it back. Thank you!  Lastly, I wish each and everyone of my classmates the best.

By guest blogger Winslow Gurney, Class of 2020 Ambassador; heading to WestRock, Hopewell, VA