‘It was just total panic,’ one student said.

WESTFIELD, NJ — When Michael Canabarro received an email last week saying his college classes would be held online for the rest of the quarter, one word described the mood: panic.

The UCLA sophomore and Westfield native was studying for his finals — UCLA runs on a quarterly school system — when the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic settled in. On top of academic pressure, Canabarro had to worry about traveling across the country at a time when flying is discouraged, getting his belongings together and importantly, staying healthy.

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Anticipating a domestic travel ban, he purchased an extra suitcase and moved his flight a day earlier. 

“I had to sort out storage, return my fridge rental and pack everything up,” Canabarro said. “It was just total panic.”

Across the nation, the coronavirus pandemic has sent similar anxiety among college students rushing home, canceling study abroad plans and forcing indefinite goodbyes among friends. Westfield is no exception, with droves of college students back home months early, as many schools suspend in-person instruction for the rest of the academic year. 

“To actually hear [classes move online], there’s just a general sadness,” said Matthew Baker, a senior at Rutgers University and 2016 Westfield High School graduate. “I felt it. I started getting texts from my friends and the realization kind of set in that college is kind of over at this point for us.”

Baker, who canceled a spring break trip to Miami last minute, said it was a disappointing end to an otherwise fulfilling college experience. 

“We had our time in college and for the most part we don't regret anything,” he said. “But we were looking forward to these last couple of months to put a stamp on it all and seal it all up. We kind of lost that.”

For others at the start of their college careers, it was managing the newly forged friendships that proved difficult. 

“It’s tough now FaceTiming people and getting on phone calls knowing I won’t see friends for upwards of five or six months,” said Lauren Logozzo, a 2019 Westfield graduate and freshman at Loyola University Maryland. 

Some also questioned the practicality of online courses.

“One of the classes I was going to take next quarter was public speaking,” said Canabarro. “Online classes pretty much takes the public out of public speaking.”

Still, coming back home is not without its merits. Canabarro said he enjoys being with family, but home isn’t the same during a pandemic. 

“It's just kind of weird, because you know all your friends are back but you can't really do anything,” he said. “Because you need to social distance.”

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