In the last of the before times

Dance Blue participants pose for a photo at the end of the 2020 Dance Blue Marathon on Sunday, March 1, 2020, at the Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Haley Simpkins

As March continues, almost every day marks a year since this COVID development or that COVID development. On Saturday, Kentucky marked one year since the COVID-19 hit the Commonwealth. The next week holds several similar anniversaries – UK announcing classes would be online, the cancellation of March Madness, the World Health Organization officially declaring coronavirus a pandemic. As these anniversaries accumulate, more and more Americans are looking back at the moment the pandemic became real to them. 

UK students are no exception, sharing their memories of the last normal thing they did before the pandemic took over. 

One of the last mass gatherings to occur at UK before much of the country shut down was DanceBlue, a traditional dance marathon fundraiser, that snuck in just five days before Kentucky confirmed its first case. 

With 923 dancers gathered on the floor of Memorial Coliseum, such a gathering is almost unthinkable now.

Anna Helker, a junior psychology major, said her favorite memory from DanceBlue was the final line dance at the end of the 24-hour marathon.

“This memory is always so fun to remember, as everyone is just giving their all into the last dance of the marathon and is just so hyped up from the reveal,” Helker said. “So many people came to the Coliseum for the reveal, and it energized the entire crowd and all of the families there. It almost feels surreal how many people were around me at one time.”

Helker said she doesn’t remember any COVID-19 precautions at the marathon, since it was not on the minds of hardly anyone at that time.

“I know the morale of the dancers will be affected significantly since they won’t have the hundreds of students around them at one time, but I still hope they can make it as enjoyable for the kids and their families, as well as the students,” Helker said.

This year’s DanceBlue will be completely virtual and shortened to eight hours, both stark differences from previous marathons. Helker’s final line dance at DanceBlue 2020 may be the last traditional DanceBlue memory she makes during her college career, depending on how COVID-19 will affect 2022’s marathon.

As an invisible clock ticked down on normalcy, UK students passed the week before everything changed with a stunning loss to UT in men’s basketball, memorable because it was the last time UK would play at home before sports were shut down.

Students also recall one of SAB’s final events, held on March 4 and featuring YouTuber David Dobrik.

Samantha Valentino, a junior broadcast journalism major, co-hosted the event with Brandon Brown

“Both of us hope to work in entertainment journalism, so we saw this as our first experience working as hosts,” Valentino said.

Valentino spent 90 minutes on stage with Dobrik in front of an audience of 1,400 UK students. Dobrik ended up challenging a student to a rock, paper, scissors match where he donated $10,000 to DanceBlue as a result of his loss.

“Really the entire event is a happy memory for me. I’ve been a fan of David Dobrik since he was on Vine, and I used to watch his YouTube videos for hours when I was in high school, so I was really just thrilled to be able to meet him and work alongside him for the evening,” Valentino said.

Nine days after the Dobrik event, students left campus for spring break knowing they would be online for two weeks afterward and with the possibility of staying virtual for the rest of the semester in their minds.  

Though some students canceled their spring break plans in light of the pandemic, others continued with travel.

Integrated strategic communications major Carlie McCoy-Lambert said her last pre-COVID memory was her spring break trip to Universal Orlando Resort, where she enjoyed her first ride on the long-awaited Hagrid’s Motorcycle Adventure coaster. 

 “At the time we knew COVID was happening, but we didn’t know to what extent,” McCoy-Lambert said. “I’d say we were worried about it, but we had no idea how serious it would be.”

McCoy-Lambert also said she was always checking for announcements from UK during this time about possibly going virtual, but she in no way expected it to be a life-changing announcement.

“I think we just thought it’d be an extra week off for the break,” McCoy-Lambert said. UK announced the rest of the semester would be online on March 17, the Tuesday of spring break.

Sophie Meadors, a senior broadcast journalism major, was also on spring break. She and her roommate visited her hometown of Raleigh in North Carolina, where the streets were eerily empty.

“It was the last thing I did in public without a mask on,” Meadors said. “We went to a couple of museums and like a candy store and we barely saw anyone, which was out of the ordinary even for a Monday afternoon, but it was great that one of my best friends from college got to meet some of my best friends from back home.” 

Meadors said she didn’t realize the severity of COVID-19 until her family planned a day trip to the beach the next morning but canceled once they realized all the public restrooms had been closed. The rest of the trip was uneventful until she returned to Lexington to pack after UK’s announcement about remote learning.

UK has omitted spring break from the academic calendar this year, so new spring break memories will be on hold for many this year. 

COVID-19 also cut some memories short. Deisy Sandoval, a freshman accounting & marketing major, said her senior year of high school was cut short because of the pandemic. Her last pre-COVID memory is that announcement of just that, as she waited for the end of school bell one day. 

“We heard a loud announcement over the intercom from the principal saying that the next week would be online then we’d return, but long story short, there was never a return and my senior year was cut early,” Sandoval said. “I never got to say my true goodbyes or have my senior week experience.” 

Freshman business major Mitchell Urban had a similar experience.

Urban had a jazz concert and esports tournament scheduled for March 13, the day that his school announced they were closing. Once the shutdown was announced, the concert – what would have been his final high school performance – was canceled. 

“It was pretty unfortunate as I was going to be recognized with a big solo and a senior recognition ceremony, so I missed out on that,” Urban said. Luckily, his esports competition was allowed to happen. 

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve had. We played our matches online, but we did it together in the coach’s classroom.” Urban said. “We were fresh off the undefeated regular season and were about to head into the playoffs. We were actually going to win the state championship, and it wasn’t even going to be close.”

Though his high school esports team and jazz band were never able to return before he graduated, Urban was able to continue his passion for esports by joining the UK Smash Cats. He also hopes to get back into jazz band next semester. 

As vaccines offer hope for normalcy by the end of this year, students like Urban and Sandoval may be able to replace those lost moments with a true college experience. But those last pre-COVID memories will stick with UK students, especially as the calendar marks off the anniversaries of what would have been.