Vazquez-Juarbe: Covid 19,20,21

Senior Joel Vazquez-Juarbe shares his experience with the COVID-19 pandemic. - Photo via

When the pandemic first began, I was in my last semester at Atlantic Cape Community College. My life was formalized. I’d wake up, workout, reward myself with a WaWa coffee, go to class, hang out with my friends during our three-hour gap and go to earth science at 7 p.m. Nothing was ever out of place.

My last day on campus was the day right before spring break. My friends and I went to Olive Garden to celebrate a much-needed week off. I remember music cranked all the way up and the windows rolled down as my friend Gianna sped down the Black Horse Pike. We were all in such a great mood, except my friend Natalie, who was stressed about all the work she had to do for her online art class.

“See you not next week,” I said jokingly. Little did I know how true that would be.

Like many people, I was not ready for the amount of change I was going to go through in 2020. I didn’t start to notice the change until my job stopped allowing customers in the building, and even then I thought it was just temporary.  

The week-long break turned into two, and then Atlantic Cape announced they were going completely virtual for the rest of the semester. I was graduating that semester, so I was sad I didn’t properly say goodbye to the campus.

While I spent a lot of time at home, I was lucky that my job remained open. I work at a smoothie shop in Ocean City, and I guess COVID-19 made everyone crave a smoothie because business was booming. People would say to me all the time, “Thank you for your service,” but I never really understood why. I wasn’t the one having to treat sick people or working till the dead of night. 

My nights were always the same. My family and I would sit around our dinner table and play UNO for hours on end. In the beginning of quarantine, my parents went from not knowing how to play the game to correcting me on the rules. I always say the best part of quarantine was spending time with my parents. Before the pandemic, I spent my entire week at school and then my weekends at work. I had forgotten how funny they can be or how alike my mom and I are. 

The summer of 2020 was an interesting one. On one hand, not a lot of tourists came down to the shore, so it was fun having a “locals only summer.” On the other hand, as much as I hate to say it, summer is not the same without annoying shoobies and hour-long traffic jams. The summer seemed to fly and drag at the same time. While I was sad to see my friends go after they had spent close to six months back at home, I was excited because I was starting my first year at Rowan.

I was excited to get into a routine again. I’d make my hour commute to Rowan every other day, turn on a podcast to listen to as I drove, and sipped on my Wawa coffee. Unlike my time at Atlantic Cape, I was determined to get as involved as I possibly could at Rowan. I essentially signed up for every club and organization that had anything to do with journalism.

My junior year was when I truly started to fall in love with journalism. At Atlantic Cape, I took journalism courses because I thought it was the only major I could be successful at. But at Rowan, by getting involved with the Rowan Television Network and The Whit, I started to enjoy all the work that goes into storytelling. It wasn’t long before I started to enterprise my own news packages and post them on my Instagram. 

My junior year was when I started to not only grow as a reporter, but also as an individual. I started to come into my own and started to actually chase the goals I had set out for myself. 

My college experience has never been normal. I started off at a community college where I knew almost no one and no one really cared about making friends. Just as I started to meet people my sophomore year, a global pandemic began. My junior year, I became much more independent and made the most out of a horrible situation. And now as a senior, I am starting to feel like a freshman again.

Rowan as a ghost town is all I’ve ever known. Seeing so many people on campus is overwhelming and scary, but also thrilling. Some days I find myself wanting to talk to every person I see, and other days I want to lock myself in a study room like I did last year.

The pandemic has brought more change in my life than I could have ever imagined two years ago. And while I want life to just slow down and stay the same for a bit, I know that change is inevitable. Learning to be okay with that is what I hope to learn this semester.

For comments/questions about this story, tweet @TheWhitOnline or email