Staff Columnist

Off to college despite COVID-19. At least that's the plan

Our mission, should we choose to accept it, and we definitely have, is to get our daughter Tess moved into her dorm at Drake University this weekend at the exact, prescheduled hour.

It’s a process that will require military precision, with maps, checkpoints, timelines and, of course, a COVID-19 test. We’ll have three hours, and no more, to move a metric ton of dorm necessity and finery to her assigned room, unpack it all and vacate the premises.

We’ll be locked and loaded, masked and sanitized. At least that’s the plan. And we all know how plans have been going the past five months.

Speaking of plans, this week we received the “Drake Together Compact.”

“Beginning move-in week, students will be prompted to review and electronically accept the terms of the Drake Together Compact as a condition of being a student at Drake University this coming academic year,” the email said. Failure to do so is not an option.

And in a pandemic, the key to continue being a college student is to not act like a college student. In addition to all of the masking, hand-washing and social distancing, students are expected to refrain from having non-Drake visitors in dorms, agree to remain mainly in the immediate area (campus and the Des Moines metro), abide by the “social moratorium” on gatherings and neither host nor attend a party on campus or off campus.

“If you are unwilling or unable to comply with the University’s COVID-19 health and safety directives, you should not come to campus and should register for virtual delivery,” the compact says.

This all, of course, makes perfect sense. The university is determined to give its students an on-campus learning experience. We’re determined to get her on campus. She’s ready to go, more than ready and excited, despite all the limits and restrictions.

But like everything else now, it’s going to be very different. It won’t be much like when my parents pulled up the 1981 Bonneville to Drake and dropped me off with just enough gear to fit in the trunk. But by the end of that day, I was in a buddy’s frat house undergoing a different sort of orientation.

Maybe this no-parties rule is a really good thing.

Yes, this will be good, we keep saying. This will work. At least all of our exhausting worries about the coronavirus have taken our minds off the typical angst associated with a bird leaving the nest. There’s been little room for sentiment as we march on and check all the boxes.

But it’s not totally lost on us, and likely will build as the moment arrives.

When we brought her into this world, she was diagnosed with a heart defect. She had to take strong medicine, for “heart failure,” the pharmacist told me, as my own heart stopped. We counted her breaths at night to make sure her little heart wasn’t getting overworked. Over time, the defect healed almost completely with no permanent effects.

Now, as she leaves home, we’re holding our breaths as we send her to college in the county with the most coronavirus cases in the state and as the virus continues its uncontrolled spread. This is the part where I insert a long rant about our lack of state and federal leadership, and how my daughter could be heading to college unencumbered by tight pandemic precautions had we done what was needed to control the spread. But that’s enough for today.

As I said, Tess is ready. The girl who has always done her schoolwork without prompting, who earned all A’s and who plans and prepares better than anyone we know is so ready. So much more so than I was, having already connected with other Drake students and her Minnesota roommate on social media.

We know she’ll do great. We also know we probably won’t see her until Thanksgiving, unless not even the Drake Together Compact can make campus safe. We’re all used to Plan B by now.

So we’re worried and tired, but proud. We’re hopeful for an uneventful semester and ready for an eventful one. Tess says if she has to move home early and take classes virtually she’ll turn her room into a dorm room, with a microwave and coffee maker, etc. Like I said, always planning.

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