Transitioning to Campus Life
While I have just graduated the University of Denver this past June, it still feels like it hasn’t really happened yet. Maybe that’s because I went straight into grad school (a topic for a later discussion), maybe it’s because I miss the friends I made along the way, or maybe it’s because a global pandemic put things on pause right as I gained my traction.
Picture this: August of 2019, it’s a few short weeks before freshmen move-in at DU. My parents and I have just finished our move up to Denver from Colorado Springs, the ramp to the new house was just put in. Now, the real work begins.
My definition of independence has always been different than my able-bodied peers. To me, the idea of independence was me thriving at DU with a team of caregivers supporting me throughout the day instead of my parents. To achieve this dream, I needed to start hiring ASAP so I could get them trained and grant them access to DU’s campus.
Hiring caregivers has never been an easy process, even in high school when I was only looking for someone for evening or morning shifts. It’s not hard to believe that nurses are hard to come by, and hard to keep in home health – the pay needs to be compelling, the working conditions need to be fair, and you’re competing with hundreds of other patients and hospitals. So, when we moved to Denver, we were hopeful that my hiring pool would be greater in a city. Mom took action quickly and created job ads to share across the internet, specifically Facebook groups for DU parents, DU students looking for housing, general pages for job hunting, etc.
Interviews can be fun, especially when the role I was looking to fill was so specific. If I’m going to be spending up to 12 hours a day with this person, it needs to be a personality fit as well as a fit with qualifications. I always make sure to stress the casual vibe of interviews, usually meeting somewhere public like a Panera or Barnes & Noble. As I integrate questions about school and work experience, I’m also sure to ask what books, tv shows, and music they like. The most important question: can they handle the endless Taylor Swift that will inevitably play at some point in the shift? If they’re a Kanye fan, it’s likely not going to work out.
So, now it’s September, my freshman year at DU has begun. Unlike most of my peers, I did not immediately say “goodbye” to my parents to only see them again at Thanksgiving. Instead, my mom ended up spending a lot of time in my dorm with me – filling in gaps as we continued to look for new hires, training said new hires, or just easing my nerves as I attempted this whole independence thing.
On top of my mom hanging out with me every so often, I had another different experience than most, I lived in the sophomore building where the accessible dorm was. That meant I didn’t have a roommate, and anyone I ran into in the hall already had a whole year of experience under their belt. This made it a little tricky to break out of my shell, I’m an introvert at heart and often forget the option of socializing outside of class.
DU runs on a quarter system instead of semesters, where there are three 10-week quarters instead of two 16-week semesters. It wasn’t until my second quarter where I felt I found my traction, I had to let a caregiver go due to personality conflicts, but I was excited with the team I had, and the classes I had lined up. I signed up for my first theatre class, which would eventually lead me to declare a minor in theatre. I somehow found the confidence to audition for the seniors’ capstones, where I could act in a short play directed by a graduating senior.
The day after callbacks for the auditions, DU sent us home two weeks early in the quarter. It was March of 2020.
Instead of interacting with my cast and director in person, it moved to Zoom. Instead of attending my first creative writing class and discussing amongst my peers, I submitted to an online board weekly. For the next 70+ days, I would find myself quarantined at the new house with my parents and feeling a sense of loss for that newfound independence.
Luckily, my parents and I are close, so the quarantine went as pleasantly as it could have, as we spent time reading, watching movies, and building LEGOs. But, by the time September of my sophomore year rolled around, I was eager to get back to campus.