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UNC Asheville Students Share Pandemic Prose, Seniors Say, ’Goodbye’

Lilly Knoepp
The UNC Asheville Creative Nonfiction posed for a picture in their final class over Zoom.

  This month, universities said good-bye to graduating seniors in unusual ways. BPR takes us to UNC Asheville’s English graduation: 

On May 9, Professor Lori Horvitz, head of the English Department said goodbye to her students:“I have the pomp and circumstance theme music. Do you hear that?” 

The department graduation was held over Zoom. Each professor gave some final advice and then many of the students expressed their thanks to the department. Alyssa Vincent transferred to UNC Asheville her sophomore year: 

“Thank you so much to this department for giving me above and beyond what I expected - and a bachelor's degree,” says Vincent. 

Just a few weeks earlier, Horvitz’s creative nonfiction class invited BPR to join its final session. The last six weeks of the class were hosted via Zoom. Many students left campus to go to their parent’s homes while a few stayed in off-campus apartments around Asheville. 

Each class, the students were given a prompt and then wrote a response in about five minutes. The themes of the prompts changed once COVID-19 cancelled classes, explains Horvitz:  “After we got on Zoom and remote learning, I decided to start doing pandemic prompts that would lead them to think about the present moment.”

The students agreed that being able to meet twice a week helped during the stay-at-home orders. 

Student Charlie Smith explains from their apartment in Asheville: “Being able to meet with the same group of classmates that I have grown to really like to be around and talk to has been grounding.” 

Horvitz shares the prompt from the final class:  “In five years when I look back at the quarantine, I will remember …” 

Here’s some of Smith’s response to the prompt: “I’ll remember my roommates. I’ll remember how I had to relearn to live with them and think about how I had to reconceptualize what it was like living with people, in general. That I needed to take breaths, before I said things. That I needed to understand very well the phrase: That was then. This is now.”

Senior Nathaniel Marshall shared his response: 

“In five years when I look back on quarantine, I will laugh at the tree that swayed and creeped outside my bedroom. The one that in daydreams fell on my room at the most hopeless of times. The trunk would snap as relationships ended on sour notes over the phone. The canopy drooped as I sobbed in the pillow heaving and socially distant. In five years, I’ll wonder if that trunk still hadn’t snapped or if the roots kept hold of the ground.” 

Marshall was one of just three seniors in the class. He says this season of life isn’t working out as he expected: “There’s a lot of transition and it feels weird. My lease is up. And I have to find a new place with no income now. And I need to find a job. It’s just kind of a mess.” 

Senior Sarah Lucander was in Davidson during the class. She says she's lucky to already have a remote job.

 “If I had to move somewhere for a job or that kind of thing - that would be very stressful for me right now,” says Lucander. 

In her response, Lucander said she was thankful for time to slow down: “There are so many sounds that I had gotten used to. The church bells, car horns and screeching tires. And I’ll remember how nice it was to listen to just nature for once.” 

At the end of the Zoom graduation, Professor Horvitz gave them this advice: 

“Follow your heart. Take risks and to travel. Those are the things that made the difference for me.”

She hopes the students will be able to travel again soon. 

UNC Asheville currently plans to host an in-person graduation for students in August.


Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.