As has been true for much of my work over the last year, the reporting was largely by phone — the students have scattered, with one in England, one in Australia and the others all over the United States and often on the move. But I did get to meet some of them.
In May, I took my first reporting flight since the pandemic began, to Winston-Salem, to tour the campus and attend the 2021 commencement, which members of the class of 2020 were invited to attend, and two did. (One bonus: I got to see what a Fighting Pickle, the school’s mascot, looks like.)
I visited with three members of the class. David Ospina, who is now working as a real estate photographer, met me for cold brew coffee on a very hot North Carolina morning; Lance Smith showed me around his mom’s apartment, where he’s been making music and self-taping auditions during the pandemic; and Sam Sherman joined Mr. Smith and me at a picnic table on campus to debrief the morning after commencement. And over dinner with the dean and several faculty members, I learned more about the school’s programs and how it had weathered the pandemic.
It’s been great to start reporting in person again. It just leads to better conversations and richer material, and I’m so grateful to all the students for their thoughtfulness. As I sat with Mr. Smith and Mr. Sherman, one memory prompted another — the student production of “Pass Over” they worked on, the alumni panels they attended, the books they’re reading and the survival jobs they’re taking and the dreams they’re trying to hold on to. “I’m starving to be in a room with people, playing with each other, having fun and goofing off and seeing what works and maybe having a breakthrough one day,” Mr. Sherman said. Mr. Smith agreed. “I miss being in it,” he added. “I miss doing it.”