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Reflections of a Pandemic

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Poster seen all over campus

It is hardly happenstance that a Princeton alum’s favorite song is “Goin’ Back to Nassau Hall.” Historically, when that is precluded by war, disaster or pestilence, events become unpredictable, and strange things happen.

COVID-19 surfaced in the U.S. in March 2020, days following Alumni Day. The University sent everyone home in mid-March and began instantly improvised distance learning as a stopgap. The deadly pandemic raced through the population, overwhelming many hospitals, ICUs and medical teams, causing acute shortages of adequate masking and protective equipment, and in the first six months – while still awaiting the vaccines that would eventually blunt the carnage – 7 million people caught the disease despite widespread shutdowns, and 150,000 died. “Social distancing,” “Zoom,” and “work from home” became watchwords and standards along with handmade masks. Six months later, the vaccines were in place and infections were declining, but the awful number of deaths passed half a million. The 2020-2021 academic year was, aside from the online classes, close to a complete ruin.

With that in mind, Jean Hendry *80, chair of the Princetoniana Committee, began in late 2020 to gather reflections from alums of their personal challenges during the pandemic disruption and shutdown, and the effect on their relationship to Princeton and Princetonians. This is not a scientific nor exhaustive sample, but simply a series of impressions from those who chose to respond to the committee’s request. But their reflectiveness and peculiar spirit intrigue nonetheless.

These 52 responses to the seminal questions:

• How has the pandemic impacted your life?


• How has the pandemic impacted your connection to Princeton?

became a Frist Campus Center exhibit at Reunions 2022, following the cancellation of the two prior Reunions, unprecedented since 1945.

Frist Vitrine

Frist vitrine exhibit, spring 2022

They are included here in the Museum to illustrate not only that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans (as John Lennon reminds us), but also - in the words of Irving MacNeice ‘1905 -

More than trees and songs and walls has Princeton for her kin.
She casts her spell upon our hearts and we are young again.

- The ‘1905 Reunion Song, 1957

Even at this posting in late 2022, over 100,000 Americans per day contract COVID, and 400 die, adding to the million so far; there is no “end” in sight. Consider these memories and reflect.

- Gregg Lange ‘70

[Curator's note: Gregg's related PAW article]

Social Distance