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THEIR LAST SEMESTER

MU seniors document their goodbyes on film

  • 8 min to read
MU seniors document their goodbyes on film

The MU class of 2021 made it.

These students walked onto campus this year not knowing how their final year would go. They split time among school, home and work — a balancing act made more complicated by a pandemic. When vaccines brought safety, normalcy creeped closer; they locked themselves in Ellis for hours on end, took a spring break trip and lounged around the quad with friends, masks off. Some were recognized for their dedication to campus organizations or their academic achievements or both. Some struggled, persevering anyway.

Last week, they raced from Jesse Hall through the Columns, completing their journey with a sip of lager and a post to Instagram. They finished their last classes in the dead of night, from their bedrooms and on a random Tuesday. And they’re graduating while spread 6 feet apart, smiles hidden behind masks.

Their final semester was one where normalcy began to return.

The Columbia Missourian gave disposable cameras to seven senior journalism students and asked them to tell the story of spring 2021 for themselves. They gave us these pictures.

This is our kitchen window

During COVID-19, this was our little window to the world. We’re pretty lucky to live near campus, so our friends would often knock on our window every time they’d walk by. This photo was taken when friends saw me and my roommate having dinner. It turned into a nice conversation through the window and they captured this photo for us. It was nice to see what they see.

I got my first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

I got my first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Faurot Field on March 19. Being at the vaccine clinic and waiting in line for my shot with dozens of others was the closest thing I’d had to a collective experience in over a year.

Greek Royalty went out for some burgers

Greek royalty went out for some burgers and beers after Greek Week announcements. Greek Week is a long-standing tradition within Greek life where sororities and fraternities group together to compete against each other. I was one of the members of royalty. We had a blast getting to know one another from different fraternities, sororities, majors and towns.

“Heading to my very first class at MU as a freshman on campus, I remember being breath-taken by the Columns. I walked past them on a beautiful August day and thought to myself, ‘I’ve finally made it here. I hope I never lose the awe and pride I feel when passing these.’

“Now, as my senior year and time on this campus come to an end, I’m thankful to pass the Columns every time I do. Senior year didn’t quite look the way we expected it to, but I’m filled with pride for my school and pride in myself when I look at those Columns. In my senior year, I covered Gov. Parson’s reelection campaign, which had been a goal of mine since freshman year. I anchored my own newscast for KOMU-TV every Sunday morning, dreading the alarm but loving every second of giving people the news they need. I made new friendships and fell in love with my fur baby, Lily. I went through the whirlwind process of applying to and getting a job.

“This senior year, I’ve been through ups and downs, breakdowns and triumphs, tears of celebration and commiseration. But through it all, I know walking across that stage at graduation will mark the beginning of a new phase of life — a phase of life I’m only prepared for through the incredible lessons I’ve learned at Mizzou. And every time I walk past the Columns from here on out, I will be flooded with the incredible memories, life lessons and relationships that will stand the test of time. Just like the Columns. Thank you, Mizzou.”

— Annabel Thorpe

Once we felt comfortable going places

Once we felt comfortable going places to sit outside, my friends and I spent many evenings at Logboat. We always said we were going there to bring our laptops and do work, but we always ended up getting food from the biscuit truck and relaxing on the lawn instead.

Sometimes when I get too stressed I need to just change my scenery

Sometimes when I get too stressed, I need to change my scenery. One of my favorite spots I’ve gone to over the past four years is Capen Park. This picture reminds me of how many parks I’ve explored since the pandemic began. I’ve always loved being outside, but hikes have a different meaning to me now.

Pictured here is Lily Thorpe

My little fur baby, Lily Thorpe. I brought Lily to my East Campus home at just 12 weeks old. She’s grown into a fluffy bear dog that loves to run around and meet every dog at the dog park, and I’ve grown to learn how to care for my first dog all by myself. 

My friends and I have found very creative ways

My friends and I found very creative ways to entertain ourselves when we had nowhere to go. One weekend, we went to my friend Kaitlyn’s house in the Ozarks to celebrate her, Paige and Hayley’s birthdays. It was a great little escape.

“I usually get a bit tearful when I say goodbye to my family and head back to Columbia. I’m an overly sentimental person, and even though they’re only two hours away, the distance can sometimes feel insurmountable. This August, though, was different. I’d been quarantining with them for nearly three months straight, and we were all growing sick of each other. I couldn’t keep living with them, but I didn’t want to leave. It made me feel like a freshman again: walking into unknown territory, ready to figure things out for myself, reaching for a hand to hold.

“Luckily, there were more than enough outstretched hands when I returned to Columbia. Working at the Missourian meant getting to socialize with my friends on a regular basis. The physical room of the 'photo bubble' spread far past Lee Hills Hall, as many of us formed our own small COVID bubbles with one another. We were isolated, but we were never really alone.

“Now, as vaccines have raced to market and cities are reopening to full capacity, it feels like this chapter of life is drawing to a close. For that to coincide with finishing my undergraduate career feels like fate — less so when paired with my decision to stick around and get my master’s. I’ve made a new home here, more so in the last 15 months than ever before. Nowhere would be better to wait out the potential end to our global nightmare than where I am right now.”

— Madi Winfield

As my friends and I got vaccinated, we started hanging out

As my friends and I got vaccinated, we started hanging out more. In my four years in Columbia, this was my first time at Cooper’s Landing. I had planned with Daniel Shular, center, to bike to the location, but we weren't able to because of scheduling. Since my plan is to stay in Columbia over the summer, I expect to keep going there. 

I bought my bike in 2019

I bought my bike in 2019. Over the past few years, my father got addicted to cycling and started introducing it to me. When I can, I try to bike once or twice a week. I normally do the same route: MKT trail toward the Big Tree and back. In the end, it’s almost 30 miles. Cycling helps me forget my problems for a little. 

I went on the best Spring Break trip ever

I went on the best spring break trip ever with friends from MU. The days were filled with lying in the sun, reading books, listening to too much loud music and eating fantastic food that broke my bank.

“The closer we get to the end of the semester, the more people ask, ‘Are you ready for graduation?’

“Honestly, my answer is yes. Not because I haven't had a good college experience or because I want to leave Columbia behind; it's more because I've felt like college has been over since last March. I took for granted being able to walk across the quad and run into friends and acquaintances. I miss milling about around strangers or people I vaguely recognize from a freshman year Spanish class. That's a huge part of what makes college a unique environment, but until it was taken away, I had never thought about it.

“Still, I've been fortunate through this pandemic. None of my family or close friends got sick. All of them have now been vaccinated.

“Because of that, I've still been able to enjoy my senior year and savor the last few weeks I have with my friends in Columbia. We've spent the year bingeing TV shows, playing catch by the Columns and buying cheap wine at Aldi to pair with pasta recipes from TikTok. It hasn't been what I expected, but it has been fun.

“I'm ready to graduate, but I feel the way I felt when I graduated high school: like I'm skydiving. It's excitement, but it's also fear. But still, I'll jump.”

— Christina Long

This was a picture I took at the Hoover Dam

This was a picture I took at the Hoover Dam. The coin is one of those smushed pennies you get from the machine that takes three quarters and a penny. After this picture, we drove to the Grand Canyon.

My sister Georgia pets a neighbor’s dog

My sister Georgia pets a neighbor’s dog during a post-dinner walk April 4. I’d come home for Easter weekend — the first time I’ve spent the night in the house in over a year without quarantining first. We all either had both doses of the vaccine or post-COVID-19 antibodies, but I still made everyone grab a mask before our walk, just in case.

“For most, graduation means happiness, the end of a phase and the beginning of another, but not for me. Obviously, there is a relief of finishing college, but the anxiety of not having a job or a plan for the next few months overcomes the happiness. Many people have told me not to worry and say that I am young. They give examples about themselves or someone they know who didn’t have an internship or a job after college. I know they are trying to help, but it doesn’t.

“In 22 years, this is the first time I’ve had problems like this, pushing me to look for help. However, I can say that professionally I have improved a lot this year. I have always been undecided on what I wanted to do in my career, but classes I took this year changed that.

“I have also made friends that I will keep in contact with for the rest of my life. I will always remember the many nights that ‘photo fam’ spent at Lee Hills Hall, the photojournalism building, working on photo projects.

"In some way, this year prepared me a lot for the real world. School was just a step toward it."

— Marco Postigo Storel

Graduation still doesn’t feel real

“Graduation still doesn’t feel real. Part of that is because I’m staying for graduate school, but part of it is the utter weirdness of the last four years. I think my high school self would find me near-unrecognizable; I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

LEFT:Hana Kellenberger pauses

LEFT: Hana Kellenberger pauses for a photo, bundled up for a frozen February Friday. I’d just arrived for work at the Missourian, and she was on her way out from her photo editing shift. There’s a comfortable camaraderie in the photo department among all of us who’ve donated hours so the paper makes it out the door. RIGHT: My desk is organized around my mental health. Mona, a crocheted bee made by my friend Katie, gets me to look over and see the pills; the Oreo is there so I don’t take them on an empty stomach. The Post-It’s just a nice reminder.

My friends and I all had at least one vaccine dose

My friends and I all had at least one vaccine dose by the time spring break rolled around. We decided to drive down to my hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas. We stayed in a farmhouse outside of town, and one morning, we made a wonderful homemade breakfast together and sat around the table like a little family.

I officially got my first job offer

I got my first job offer and signed my contract at WLKY on this day. The Champagne bottle reads, “Annabel’s Employed,” and all I can say is thank goodness. I’m so excited to head to Louisville, and I start my job as a local news reporter in June.

“What was senior year at Mizzou like for me? I never thought I would answer that question. For the longest time, I struggled with being so far from home and being accepted by people on campus; I was ready to transfer back home. But once I found my community among Black Mizzou, my sorority sisters and my friends, I can say I'm sad to leave.

“Even with COVID-19, this year was so special to me. I made more friends and memories than I ever thought I would. I took trips with people I love and had many great nights with my little sister and our adopted puppy, Luna. I discovered so many new spots in mid-Missouri. I served as president of NABJ and earned the title of Mizzou ‘39, both dreams of mine since coming to campus.

“Of course, these pictures I captured only show the highs of senior year. Off camera, I definitely struggled with my mental health. Every time I tried to fill out a job application, I would have an anxiety attack and was ashamed to tell even my best of friends.

“But now, I am graduating from the world’s number one journalism school and am comfortable, even excited, for a summer to relax and figure out where and how my career is going to begin. When I shed a tear as I cross the ‘stage,’ it’ll be because I’ll be forever grateful for the people who helped me make my time here so special, more than they’ll ever know.”

— Erin Davis

Reading has always been an escape for me

I have always gravitated toward spectacular stories with unbelievable and twisty plots and strong character development. During the pandemic, I found myself flying through books at an unnatural rate. I found even more comfort with characters that understood me and could take me on their adventures with them.

This is a picture of the Las Vegas strip as my plane was landing

The Las Vegas strip as my plane was landing. Going to Vegas was a kind of spontaneous trip I took with my friend. It was super fun exploring the city and spending a week relaxing. It was the best way to have a week of self-care.

My girlfriend and I have been together for almost 3 years

My girlfriend and I have been together for almost three years, and most of this time it’s been online. Online video calls are the only way for us to decrease our saudade, the Portuguese word for "the feeling of missing each other". We are both from São Paulo, Brazil, and while I am here studying journalism, she is back there studying architecture. I love her and miss her a lot.

My older brother gave me a hamster

Last May, my older brother gave me a hamster for my birthday. At first I was excited to have a friend to play with. That was before I realized what a demon he is. Chunk never lets me hold him, instead choosing to bite and attack the hand that feeds him. During the year, we developed an understanding where the only time I am allowed to touch the cage is when feeding him and cleaning his cage. We manage to coexist, but I still dream of days when Chunk does not want to murder me.

“While I was under the impression that my last year at Mizzou was going to be miserable due to COVID-19, I was proven wrong.

“I had the privilege of living with some of my closest friends, and we all made the most of staying cooped up. We threw house parties where only the eight of us could attend — ranging from rodeo-themed to relaxed game nights. 

“During my second semester, I got to start my experience as a photo editor for the Columbia Missourian. And what a wild ride it has been. I feel like it is all-consuming. I spend so much time in the photo bubble that I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like when I don’t have my shifts every week.

“I have not had time to process the fact that my time at Mizzou is almost done. I don’t think I will ever come to terms with it.”

— Kit Wiberg

My sorority sisters mean the world to me

This picture is from a girls’ weekend trip to Branson. On the way there, my tire blew up, and we didn’t make it to the Airbnb until 3 a.m. The next day, I ended up having to buy four new tires. They were all supportive and kept spirits high the entire time. I’m so grateful for all of them.

The sun sets behind me

The sun sets behind me as I drive eastbound down I-70 on April 4. It’s a route with which I’m intimately familiar; no matter if I’m coming toward Columbia or Kansas City, I always say I’m heading home.

“I can imagine the multiple ways my senior year could have gone differently without the pandemic, but that's all it will be: my imagination. So, I decided not to look at my last year in college as something that was drastically changed by this virus. Of course, it has definitely impacted me, but there’s so much more to my year than what COVID took away from me.

“It didn’t take away my movie nights with my friends, even though they were online. Or the nice dinners I cooked with my roommates, all the new music I listened to or the books I read. I still presented my capstone and took all of my exams, and I’m still graduating.

“It went by way too fast, like it’s supposed to. I got stressed out thinking about my future and upset at the thought of leaving my friends, just like it’s supposed to. So even if this wasn’t the senior year that I thought of when I was a freshman, it was my senior year. And I’m glad I have these pictures to remember it by.”

— Mariana Labbate

I have three roommates and we all share this tiny bathroom

My three roommates and I all share this tiny bathroom, so the morning of our graduation pictures was complicated. I was in line to use the bathroom when I took this photo of my roommate Sylvia fixing her make up. Seeing each other do ordinary things like that in our caps and gowns really made me realize we’re actually doing it. We’re graduating, and soon we won’t be sharing a tiny bathroom anymore.

Photos by Erin Davis, Mariana Labbate, Christina Long, Marco Postigo Storel, Annabel Thorpe, Kit Wiberg and Madi Winfield.

Produced by Jacob Moscovitch and Tristen Rouse.

These pictures were made using disposable film cameras. Each student's words have been edited for clarity and length.

  • Reporter at the Columbia Missourian. (He/Him). Reach me jacobmoscovitch@mail.missouri.edu.

  • Tristen Rouse is a photo editor at the Columbia Missourian and contributor to its photo blog, The Method. He previously worked at the Missourian as a statehouse photojournalist. He can be reached via email at tjrggf@mail.missouri.edu.

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