“Love will hold us together, make us a shelter to weather the storm. And I’ll be my brother’s keeper, so the whole world will know that we’re not alone.”
These lyrics filled the Due Santi chapel on what we did not know was to be our last Sunday night on campus. A large group of friends had gathered to sing praise and worship music in celebration of our classmates’ birthdays and in thanksgiving for the good news that we received the day before—that we would be staying in Rome.
Earlier in the week, we learned that the coronavirus was becoming more of a threat to our semester. Because of this, any plans we had for the coming week were changed.
Some classes were canceled. All class field trips into the city were no longer permitted. Any students who had traveled to infected areas were now in quarantine. The Greece trip was canceled. We feared that we could be sent home at any moment. The only sense of normalcy was that Dr. Crider’s paper was still due on Friday.
Dr. Peter Hatlie devoted hours to researching the state of the virus in Italy, communicating with worried parents and developing new gameplans with the administration back in Dallas. He kept us up to date with many meetings and emails, and we were all pretty certain that he didn’t sleep the entire week.
I was blown away by the response of my classmates to what could nearly be described as whiplash. During a time of such uncertainty and confusion, it would have been easiest to give in to fear and anger; we responded instead with prayer, dancing, laughter and song.
Every day after classes, large groups of friends walked through the vineyard praying the rosary together. Multiple thank-you notes circulated throughout campus to be presented to the professors and staff. Conversations centered on gratitude for the opportunities we had thus far, rather than on those we might possibly miss out on.
Our fears of leaving were put to rest for a few days when it was decided that we would simply wait out the virus on campus, finish our classes and postpone travel until the end of the semester. We celebrated with a pilgrimage to holy sites in the city and returned to campus to a Balkan dance party, a Greek dinner and a live musical performance by Italian shepherds. Since we couldn’t travel to Greece, Greece came to us!
We were simply overjoyed to be staying and looked forward to classes resuming as normal the next Monday morning.
Instead, we woke up to a most unfriendly email. The semester was canceled. Just as my roommate and I finished reading the email, a friend burst into our room and invited us to the Mensa where everyone was dancing! Even then, only moments after finding out that we were being sent home from the semester of our dreams, we came together as a community of friends, and we danced.
Instead of reporting to class, we had a campus-wide meeting. Dr. Hatlie presented a closing ceremony of sorts, dubbed us “the Royal Class” and showed a slideshow of pictures from the semester.
As our adventures flashed across the screen, the very same song from the night before in the chapel played as background music. When it came to the chorus, it transitioned into a recording of our voices. We joined together to finish the song, and I looked around at the faces of my classmates. How blessed I was to experience the best six weeks of my life with such incredible people. How very sad I was to leave them so soon.
I had never experienced such a fast turnaround of events. One day, we expected classes to continue as normal, and the next, we were on a bus to the airport. My heart broke as I waved goodbye to my dear friends, to the professors and their families, to our lovely campus staff, to our Royal palace.
But, more than anything, my heart was filled with gratitude; gratitude for the gift to spend six weeks in Europe; gratitude for opportunities to travel; gratitude for such enriching classes, generous professors and joyful classmates; gratitude for health and for a safe return home.
This short article is not a full depiction of all that happened leading up to our return home, nor a fair presentation of everyone’s experience. I must admit that the situation is most unfortunate, I daresay tragic, and I cannot dismiss the great pains that it has caused for so many involved. But, like the chorus of Agamemnon, I cannot admit only the “sorrow sorrow” when in fact, “good [will] win out in the end.”
The naming of the Royal Class was inspired by Arthur Rimbaud’s poem entitled “Royalty.” Dr. Hatlie compared us to the “very gentle people” who were friends and who “were regents for the whole morning… and for the whole afternoon.” He affirmed our integrity of character, resilience in such trying times, and our joy. I could not imagine a name more befitting of this group of people.
We are now joined by our classmates from the Dallas campus in the sadness of being sent home and must join the rest of the world in quarantine and isolation.
During this time of global crisis, may the resilience of the Royal Class and the lyrics to this song remind us all to cling to love. Let us be our brother’s keeper. Let us fend for each other. Let us come together as a world: as a community; as friends; and as brothers and sisters. May we never forget that we’re not alone.