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To Capture a Moment

To Capture a Moment

An unusual assignment gave history students a chance to reflect on the items that most defined the pandemic.

Summer 2020 | By Laura J. Cole

It’s the year 2120, and a museum is putting together an exhibition in memory of the centennial of the COVID-19 pandemic. You have to select an artifact to include in the exhibition that best encapsulates what this moment in time was really like. The only stipulation: You can’t choose anything medical, such as a face mask. What do you choose and why?

That is the question instructor Kevin Mitchell Mercer ’12 ’17MA posed to students in two sections of his U.S. History: 1877 to Present course as part of an extra credit assignment. The assignment was intended to get students to think about history a little differently: as someone who’s actively living through a moment that defines an epoch.

“The results are moving and heartbreaking,” Mercer said in a series of tweets about the assignment that went viral. “Collectively, they show young lives in disruption.”

Answers ranged from the glass doors through which students were forced to interact with loved ones to things left unfinished, such as half-empty course notebooks and used Scantrons.

We asked students in the course permission to share their answers. Here is a sampling of their selections.

Jigsaw Puzzles

Emma Cahill
Hospitality Management

Who would’ve thought that jigsaw puzzles would become a hot commodity? So many people are turning to this almost outdated pastime that places such as Target, Walmart and even Amazon are selling out of them.

I have always loved doing puzzles, but usually I don’t have time to complete them. Now I have all the time in the world, and I’ve completed about seven puzzles. My mom has been posting the puzzles I complete on Facebook, and her friends are responding with the ones they’ve completed — even offering to leave some on their porch so I can grab them. It’s become a way to connect us while we try and fill our days with something that doesn’t always involve a screen.

Office Chair

Korinna Perez-Nunez
Entertainment Management

If I had to choose one thing to represent the pandemic, I would pick my office chair. I use it way more than I used to. It’s where I spend the entirety of my day while I do my online homework and work. Every time I look at this chair now, I think about turning my laptop on and getting started with my new daily routine.

I think that many others would feel the same way about their home workspaces since they’re most likely getting used more now than ever.

Analog Clock

Narvin Chhay
Sport and Exercise Science

For my artifact, I would probably choose the big analog clock in my living room. This is mostly a symbolic artifact, but I feel like it represents a lot of the feelings I have dealt with over the course of the pandemic.

I was having the time of my life my sophomore year. Then, just like that, the clock stopped and everything in our world was put on pause, but we are still losing time. This is the best way I can explain the feeling.

The most valuable thing we have in our lives is time. Most of my questions about the pandemic are in regard to it. When will this end? When can we go back to life as it was before? Will I still be done with college in two more years or will it now take longer? Hopefully, most of us have a long life ahead of us, where we will have countless hours of time to spend learning, growing and experiencing as much in life as we can.

Airplane Ticket

Gibran Khalil
Electrical Engineering

I would include my flight ticket back home. International travel has been suspended, so I can’t go back home. The only way I could get back home if I wanted to is to violate my F1 Visa and get deported back to Aruba, my home country. It sucks that I can’t physically go to where my family is, and I’ve struggled to stay motivated.

Graduation Cap and Prom Dress

Natalie Nguyen
Political Science

The artifacts that I would choose to represent the pandemic are a graduation cap and a prom dress, which represent the celebration of the end of one journey and the beginning of a new one. I was fortunate to experience both my prom and high school graduation, although I have close friends who have lost both opportunities.

My heart goes out to all who have died and to those who are still suffering from this disease. But my heart also goes out to those who have lost experiences, friendships and the close to important chapters in their lives.

Wall Phone

Jan Soto Aceved
Political Science

I would select an antique, disconnected wall phone. My mom works for a healthcare provider for the elderly and hearing her calls with patients breaks my heart because they are a population that is currently suffering from this pandemic, even if they are not infected with COVID-19. They can’t as easily access groceries and medicine, and they are struggling with depression and immense economic debt due to the pandemic. For this reason, the antique, disconnected wall phone signifies the anxiety that’s put upon this particular group of people in this time of need.


Alexis Robinson

During this time, I’ve found myself reading more than usual and I’ve noticed that other people have been reading more to pass the time as well. Books have been something that most of us have taken for granted and haven’t really paid much attention to, as with most of the arts in general. However, with the current state of things, items like books are what are keeping us sane during quarantines and lockdowns. It’s also surprising how many books are based around events like this, ones that we all believed would never be realistic. In a way these books are marking our reality through their fictional tales.

Tweets About NBA Suspension

Javal Brooks
Computer Science

During spring break, my friend and I drove to Miami to watch the Miami Heat play the Charlotte Hornets. Since COVID-19 was in the news, we were able to get great seats for a cheap price. During the fourth quarter of the game, I checked Twitter and saw multiple tweets with the news that NBA commissioner Adam Silver had decided to suspend the season. Seeing those tweets during the middle of the game made me feel like I was in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Sadly, the Heat lost that game, but I didn’t even care about the outcome after I saw those tweets. I was just stunned that the season was over. I remember driving home and feeling like I was in the middle of history. It was a bittersweet moment for me and truly a moment in history I’d love to share.

Hand Sanitizer

Maliyah Tillman
Health Sciences

Hand sanitizer has become a sacred item for many individuals. The hysteria of the pandemic caused several people to buy it in bulk, hoping that these tiny bottles of hand sanitizer that kill 99.9 percent of germs would protect them from the dangers of this world.

I found myself in the very same situation of desperation, surveilling the stores, hoping to get lucky and score myself some hand sanitizer. I was among the lucky to find a lone bottle, waiting for the last greedy hand to take it off the shelf. That single bottle is now a symbol for this generation — a means of protection, security and consumer desperation.