Back to School During COVID – A Reflection

by | Sep 1, 2020 | Voices

I am going back to school in person. This is my first year at Lewis & Clark Law School, and they gave students the option to attend in person or online. The decision to go in person was easy for me, because I’m starting a new degree at a new school in a new place. 

Lewis & Clark is my dream school. My parents both went to law school when I was in middle school, but I never considered being a lawyer myself until after I did Project Green Challenge with Turning Green. I was a PGC Finalist in 2018, and it opened my eyes to all the work that needs to be done for a just and sustainable future. Once my senior year of college was getting closer, I started to realize my best path forward is in environmental law. The best law school in the country for the aspiring environmental attorney is Lewis & Clark, so when I was accepted with scholarship, I knew it was the place for me. 

No one will have a normal school year in 2020, at least not in the USA. Classes are split in half, and first year students are only on campus two days a week. We have to spread out in large lecture halls, and the professor will be behind a plexiglass barrier. Masks are required for all. In person classes will end the day before Thanksgiving, meaning my last week of classes and my final exams (the entirety of your grade in law school) will be online. Many questions remain about how COVID-19 will impact the typical law school routine, not to mention how this will all impact the future of myself and my fellow class of 2023.

Sunny at her law school campusLewis & Clark is in Portland, OR, a place I’d never been before. I moved here all the way from Olathe, Kansas, which meant traveling by plane. Thankfully my mom came with me to help with my move, but we had to leave my little sisters behind, because they too are starting school soon and also wanted to attend in person. They couldn’t risk testing positive for COVID-19.

Moving far away from home during a global pandemic is tough, but as an optimist, I found some silver linings. Fortunately I moved into a house near the law school, and my walk to campus is on a trail through the forest right across the street. I can’t explore my new city like I want to, but living next to miles of conveniently located hiking trails has its perks. 

I’m not going to lie, it’s been lonely. Other than my roommates, I don’t know anyone here yet. Many of the normal events for incoming students have been cancelled, and social distancing doesn’t lend itself to meeting new people. In the few digital conversations I’ve had with other students, it seems many of them are interested in environmental law too. The environmental law program is well regarded, so it makes sense, but it still surprises me just how many people here are empowered like I am to protect the environment with a law degree. The environmentalist in me is hopeful we can make it through these new challenges, and maybe our second year can be closer to normal.

It’s hard to give advice on going back to school during a pandemic because of how unprecedented this situation is. Like all other spring 2020 grads, my last semester in college was finished remotely, so for anyone going back to school online, I would recommend you stay as engaged as you can. It can be even easier to fall behind when you aren’t going to school in person, so making an extra effort to keep track of your deadlines and keep in touch with your teachers and classmates can make a huge difference. For anyone else going back in person like me, all I can recommend is to get ready for a new normal. 

Sunny Bitner

Sunny Bitner

From Lawrence, KS, Sunny was a finalist in Project Green Challenge 2018. She currently serves as ambassador for Project Green Challenge.