Watching BU’s Campus Turn into a Ghost Town

I was in a friend’s room, talking about my plans for the summer when I unsuspectingly checked my phone mid-sentence. Little did I know that I was about to receive the email from BU officially informing us that we had to vacate our residences and leave campus within the next five days.

After we all scrambled for our phones to confirm the news, my friends and I looked up, mirroring each other’s expressions of panic and confusion. A babble of conversation broke out among us, and suddenly we forgot what we were talking about beforethe only thought in our minds was how to get back home.

As a student with a permanent address outside the United States, this meant a little bit more than packing up and hopping on the next bus or train out of the city. I had to check if the country I lived in, India, was still letting people in, or if the government had imposed travel sanctions. I had to call the Indian Embassy and verify if my paperwork and documents were still valid and enough to get me inside the borders. I had to condense a year’s worth of memories and items in my dorm into just a couple of boxes, and then figure out where to store them. And above all, I had to call my parents, who were half a world away and worried sick, and inform them about BU’s decision.

All of this meant that I was probably going to be one of the last students to leave campus. Between answering a dozen phone calls a day and spending the last few moments of the semester with those of my friends who were still on campus, I barely got around to packing my belongings. My thoughts were scattered and I was out of breath from running from one part of campus to another, but in the midst of all that confusion there was one image that kept flashing in my mind: the deserted roads of Commonwealth Avenue.

BU’s usually bustling campus, with students crammed into the sidewalks and spilling onto the streets as cars honked impatiently and the T whistled past, was now a mere shadow of what it once used to be. City Co’s packed tiled floors were now void of freshmen enthusiastically popping in from Warren Towers, the Tsai Performance Centre’s steps were achingly sparse of loitering students passing time before their next classes, and the Starbucks in the GSU didn’t have a single soul waiting for their Mocha Frappuccino. Before, the coronavirus pandemic had only seemed like a distant idea in my mind, but as I witnessed BU slowly turn into a ghost town, the concept solidified into a harsh, unavoidable reality.

As I walked back to my dorm one day after buying boxes for my belongings, the only sound coming from the wind swirling fallen leaves around my ankles, I pondered my options. I had found out the previous day that India had issued a travel ban on international travel. I was stuck in the States, but I knew I could appeal to BU to stay backbut at that point, I didn’t know what was worse: being forced to leave Boston early, or choosing to remain on a campus that I thought I knew perfectly but now looked so eerily different.

In the end, I decided to leave campus and stay at a relative’s place. I finished packing up my stuff and went on one last Starbucks haul in an attempt to use up the dining points I had so carefully saved up to use during my finals week breakdowns. As I made the last walk to my dorm, I realized that the old saying “the people make the place” couldn’t possibly be truer:  the empty streets of BU’s campus were testament to that. The fact that I would have two less months of seeing the CITGO sign from my dorm’s study lounge, and that I couldn’t see my friends at least for another five months, finally sunk in. As I walked into my room, its beds stripped bare of sheets and dull white walls missing their usual posters, I understood how short these four years of university truly were how these two months that the pandemic robbed us of were actually a whole quarter of an academic year.

Shutting down the campus in the middle of the semester was far from anybody’s ideal scenario, but it was the best possible option to ensure the safety of BU’s students. These are dark days we’re living in, with even darker possibilities lurking in every corner of the way. The best we can do is surround ourselves with loved ones, follow precautions and hope for the best! 

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