Student David Dupont returns to an eerily quiet campus.
“Those photos are going to be timeless someday!” yelled a bicyclist as he passed me.
I had to go on campus today, March 19th, in the midst of a global pandemic, which has essentially shut everything down. It’s finals week here at UC San Diego. While that does mean that campus would normally be a bit slower, but it was certainly much slower than I have ever seen it before. The past week and a half have felt like it’s been two months. It seems like all the conversations with my coworkers were dominated with how weird it all is, that nobody is out. How empty the highways are. How empty the shopping centers that are normally bustling are. How there isn’t even a sign of traffic outside our store, (as we normally get to watch the cars line up throughout the afternoon rush hour). Everywhere I’ve been has just felt so empty.
So as I was leaving to head to campus this afternoon I figured, Hey, might as well as take my camera, my campus may never be as empty as it will be today. I thought I could get some scenic shots of the campus that would normally be impossible given how busy that place can get. Now I was able to get some good photos, at least in my humble opinion, but campus wasn’t as beautiful as I thought it to be. Don’t get me wrong. UCSD is a gorgeous campus. It’s right by the ocean, there is some beautiful architecture, albeit somewhat eclectic, but none the less, I think it’s gorgeous. Just ask any of my close friends and family, they will tell you that’s the first thing I tell anyone about my school. But today, on a warm, sunny, picturesque March afternoon, one step on campus, and you could tell something was wrong.
As soon as I got on campus it felt weird. Not to mention I didn’t have to fight for parking. I didn’t have to wait 20 minutes for the shuttle. I didn’t have to wade through people to get to class. If you asked me during the first week of any quarter, I would say the problem is that we have too many people on campus, but now I’m sure I wouldn’t say that again. Thinking back, I can say why exactly it feels like all of the photos are somewhat eerie. It’s the lack of people. It’s the missing couple that should be cuddling in one of the hammocks on the green. It’s all the missing vendors or Greek life booths that line up and down Library Walk. It’s the missing strikers walking around the silent tree in front of Geisel Library. It’s the missing professors hurriedly walking across campus in a pack discussing new theorems or department guidelines.
My campus has both natural and man-made beauty, but none of it shines with the people there to enjoy it, or make use of it. Without any of the humans there that the campus was designed for, it’s lifeless. The raccoons might still be about scavenging, the pigeons looking for scraps, the trees and the fauna are all still alive, but it all just isn’t as beautiful without the people.
The other thing that set everything off is just how disheveled everything is. Chairs and tables have all been turned upside down. Carts have been left unattended in the pathways. Surely if it was just spring break, things would look a bit more organized. Even you didn’t know there was a global pandemic, you would know something was wrong if you came here. Whether it’s because of all the closed signs, or the packed-up furniture, you would know.
I’ll never forget walking around that empty campus. I’ll go back next fall, I assume, after my online quarter is done and over, after this storm of a pandemic has passed (which it will, eventually), and when I do, I won’t take for granted the people. The students. The vendors. The pollsters. I won’t take for granted any of them. Because now I know, the beauty I see in that campus isn’t because of the nature and the eclectic buildings, these things despite the people, but it’s actually the other way around. It’s the diverse, group of people that call that campus home, or work, or school that truly make it beautiful.