NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Graduating senior Annemarie Price is at home in Katy with her parents. She's safe and sound. The coffee is good. And when she's on the couch studying or taking online classes, she enjoys the company of her two dogs, a Great Pyrenees named Astro and a Golden Retriever named Travis.
Price, a Stephen F. Austin State University Rusche College of Business senior majoring in marketing and minoring in graphic design with a 3.8 GPA, is in the running for a national scholarship through the Washington Media Scholars Foundation. Having made it through two qualifying rounds to the finals, Price and her teammate, Wichita State University-based Tyler Heizelman, are vying for a share of the $18,500 award. Winners will be announced in June. Landing the scholarship would be momentous, but even if Price doesn't take the top prize, she'll consider it a win. Making the invite to Washington, D.C., was the original goal, and that's already been accomplished.
All should be good in Price's world. But it's not.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated disruptions, Price is uncertain of the future, even if plenty is already known. Employers are taking a wait-and-see approach to hiring. Her walk across the commencement stage at Johnson Coliseum will have to wait until a date that's yet to be determined. She may not get to say a proper goodbye to her classmates and professors. The virus dashed all that.
With her coursework all but done, she's looking forward to SFA's virtual graduation ceremony on May 30, which for her will include commencement-style robes for her pets. Not quite what she had in mind at the beginning of the year, but it'll be fun.
And then there's her family. Both of Price's parents have underlying health issues, making them susceptible to the virus. And her sister, a '17 graduate from SFA's DeWitt School of Nursing, is in hazard's way working at Memorial Hermann in Houston.
Indeed, COVID-19 has arrived at Price's front door, and it's knocking quite loudly.
Price hasn't been on campus since March, when she posed for her senior photos and collected a few personal belongings from her residence hall. She didn't want to leave. But during spring break, as SFA and universities across the country shifted to online and remote learning, she knew she had no choice.
"I respect the decision, and I support doing what we can to make people safe," she said. "I get it."
While the transition to full-blown distance learning has been successful for Price, it's not all together satisfying. Price is a people person. She's an intern for the College of Business' social media team, an officer with the Community Assistant Honors Council with Residence Life and an officer with SFA's interdepartmental Advertising Club. As a senior, she was accustomed to seeing a lot of familiar faces in class and in the halls. The unceremonious separation has been acute.
"For me, one of the reasons I love SFA is that you can make close connections with professors and the people in your classes," she said. "The years I have spent on campus were the best years of my life. I am deeply saddened that I won't be returning to classes and spending my final days as a student in Nacogdoches."
Even though the virus has upended the culmination of her college career, and even though her family remains under threat from the virus, she's been able to keep everything in perspective. She's adaptable and resilient. And though the job market could be tight, at some point an employer will recognize her passion and give her a chance.
For the broader public, a valuable lesson one that could make the world a better place – can be learned.
"People are going to hug friends a little harder, spend time with the people they care for more often, and be thankful for the things we took for granted like walking through a grocery store with fully stocked shelves," Price said. "The coronavirus has made it difficult to predict what the future will look like, or determine how to prepare for it; even so, we have to keep moving forward and face things as they come, and do it to the best of our ability."