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The apocalypse in the AMC tv series Fear the Walking Dead begins in the spring after a mysterious and deadly virus finds its way to America. The virus, classified as a pandemic, causes government-mandated quarantines and shutdowns, crowds at the grocery store to stock up on food, worried guidance from the CDC in Georgia, and the world to be filled with a general sense of panic and chaos as society winds down. Sound familiar?


After a disappointing freshman year, I entered my sophomore year ready to make the most of my college experience. I knew in my heart that I was at the wrong place, but still wanted to try to make my life at the college better. So I pushed myself to obtain leadership positions, focus on academics, and become more social. By Spring semester I was editor-in-chief of a campus publication, had received an academic distinction award, made more friends, and was in a long-term relationship. I still wasn’t satisfied with my environment, but I was doing alright. 


I started hearing news reports of coronavirus in February, including the first case in the U.S, which occurred in Seattle. Though it was only a few hours away, there was no real suspicion of community transmission, and my semester continued as normal. By February 29th, the Seattle hotspot had grown and had its first death. The virus made it’s way to my small Washington state town only a few days later. Within a week, the college had shut down and sent students home with no idea when or if they would return. People were wearing desperado-like bandanas around before masks became mandated, the streets were empty and desolate, and there was a large electronic road sign broadcasting the words “STAY HOME, SAVE LIVES” on the road to the grocery store. It was pretty apocalyptic.


Though logically I knew that catching Covid-19 did not cause people to become undead monsters with a penchant for eating brains, the entire situation was shocking, emotionally tolling, and eerily familiar. I’m no stranger to the zombie apocalypse. I’ve seen nearly every season of The Walking Dead. I’ve been in the zombie simulation at Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights. I even have my own zombie-preparedness kit at home (well, not really, it’s just a regular emergency/fire/earthquake/car trouble kit, but it sounds much more fun this way). 


For me, the similarities between fiction and real-life struck literally way too close to home. Fear the Walking Dead takes place in a neighborhood adjacent to the one where I live in northeast Los Angeles. The high school where some of the characters go is where I took my SATs and ACT.

The traffic that the characters experience trying to get out of the city is on roads I drive on every day. Verbatim to the show, the government was ineffectual in managing the pandemic, people believed the virus to be a hoax (they usually were the first to turn into zombies), and mandatory quarantines were put in place. 


Though extremely trivial in the context of both the fictional and current global pandemics, I found myself thinking about how this would affect my college education. In Fear the Walking Dead, one of the characters is Alicia, a senior in high school who intends to go to UC Berkeley in the fall. She frequently comments on how excited she is for her new life at college, but when the apocalypse happens, any hope of a college experience is ruined. A similar conversion happens between a paranoid student and the guidance counselor in the pilot episode, where the student expresses his predictions about how the zombie pandemic will affect the future of his education, “Yeah, no one's going to college. No one's doing anything they think they are.” 


Obviously, no matter what my imaginative mind was telling me, this year did not bring the onslaught of the apocalypse. Despite the severity of the pandemic, society has continued fairly normally. Unlike Alicia, who spends her would-be college years fighting off hoards of the undead, I was only faced with Zoom University. However, even the slightest possibility of a zombie apocalypse made me re-evaluate my life. If the pandemic evolved like the tv series and my normal life ended with two unfulfilling years at the wrong college, would I have been okay with that? The answer was a resounding no.


While I had been thinking of transferring since my first semester, that was a step wildly outside my comfort zone. I was unhappy at my old college, but I kept telling myself that maybe if I went abroad, added another major, or lived with more of my friends, that things would get better. Spoiler: they did not. My 8th grade English teacher died from COVID-complications, my mother’s pay cut massively reduced my family’s only source of income, I lost my internship for the summer, I did not get to say goodbye to friends, and my mental health and grades tanked in quarantine. 


I’ve always been a meticulous planner, and am not known for making any decisions on a whim, but I took a chance and applied to transfer based on one random email I got from a school I knew nothing about. In May I was accepted to Denison, a college that no one I knew had ever gone to, no one around me had even heard about before, and was located in a part of the country I had never been to. Without a second thought, I said yes to the offer. 


From a text from my mother reading “OHIO?!?!” to suggestions that I should take time off, go to community college, or stick it out at my current school because “it wasn’t worth it,” people were pretty discouraging of my spontaneous life-path reversal. My academic advisor warned me that maybe my judgment was clouded at the moment. Most of my friends understood my intentions but thought I was insane to be a) transferring and b) especially transferring during a pandemic where no one knew what the fall would even look like. I made random polls on Twitter and Facebook asking for strangers’ opinions on my decision. Most said people advised against it; transferring is a massive enough undertaking without the threat of global uncertainty. The pandemic has impacted the college decisions of seniors across the world, but I didn’t need to make this choice. I wasn’t completely miserable and was more than halfway toward graduation at my college. Transferring is would set me back academically and socially, and I particularly struggle with online learning, so adjusting to a new school with the additional hardship of zoom classes was going to be a challenge.


Do I regret my transfer? Absolutely not. Denison is amazing, and am proud to be here every day. My classes are incredible, people are nice, and the campus is beautiful. As a junior transfer, I only have two years left of college, and despite the fact that this semester (and year, probably) is not nearly the same as before COVID, I am happier here than I was ever before. I wouldn’t have transferred if 2020 proceeded as normal; I used the chaos in the world as an excuse for my own spontaneity. I shouldn’t have had to experience a global pandemic and work myself into a frenzy about the zombie apocalypse to understand that I am an active agent in my own life, but now that I know that the future is unpredictable, I won’t waste any time or take anything for granted.  And hey, if the zombie apocalypse ever actually does happen, at least I will be able to say that I got to spend time at a college I really truly love.

Penelope is an economics major and political science minor at Denison University. She is passionate about social and environmental justice, and wants to go into politics one day. She spends her time obsessing over Taylor Swift, making collages on Pinterest, and denying that she is still in her emo phase.
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