Michaela Barnette ’20, a dental hygiene and anthropology double major and first-generation college student from Dallas, North Carolina, said unprecedented seems to be the word of the year.
Unprecedented, for students, has meant extended spring break, moving classes online, disrupted study abroad programs, separation from family and friends, and — a particular disappointment for Carolina seniors — postponed commencement ceremonies.
“Everyone is devastated about graduation being postponed and how it’s not going to be the same,” shared Michaela. “We don’t get to go climb the bell tower or walk across the stage like we were supposed to with all our friends and family there. And I can tell that it’s hurting my parents just as much as it’s hurting me. They are so proud of everything that I’ve done up to this point, and they were just waiting for that moment to celebrate.”
And, Michaela said, being a dental student adds another layer of uncertainty, particularly for those graduating.
“We can’t take our clinical board exams because they have that patient interaction clinical component — or even our written board exams because testing centers are closed. We don’t know when we’ll be able to get back into the clinic and see patients. Without our exams, we won’t be eligible to apply for jobs, if and when there are jobs. All of this adds more levels of uncertainty, which wears on how we are doing mentally and emotionally. Just the unknown of everything and having to be strong and stay positive, it’s hard. And not being able to be with my family, with my parents, or even with my friends who have become family — it’s really hard.”
Amid all of these uncertainties, challenges and disappointments, Michaela was also unsure about where she was going to live. She only knew she had to relocate because of the pandemic.
She heard about the Carolina Student Impact Fund in emails from Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and the COVID-19 Action Team at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry, but she didn’t think her situation was dire enough to warrant help.
“I thought, ‘No, I’m not going to apply for this. There are so many other students in far worse situations than I am in, and they are deserving of this.’ However, I was speaking with one of my professors and telling her about what was going on and how I was stressed, and she encouraged me to send the email.”
Michaela came to tears when she learned she would receive money from the fund to help with her moving expenses.
“Honestly, just knowing that there were people out there willing to donate money to strangers, for whatever they needed, was comforting,” she shared. “Just knowing that there are other people out there thinking of us and continuing to support us, it means a lot.”
Since Renee and John Grisham helped kick off the Carolina Student Impact Fund with their $100,000 gift, more than 200 donors have given almost $350,000 to the fund. Alumni, faculty and staff, parents of current and former students, and even people who work at other universities are stepping up to help Carolina students. Existing Disaster Recovery and Student Government funds were allocated to the Carolina Student Impact Fund, as well, bringing the fund to a total of more than $660,000. As of April 14, approximately $507,000 has been distributed to more than 600 UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate, graduate and professional students facing financial challenges due to these unprecedented times.
The support of the Carolina community has truly been humbling, especially when so many are concerned about their own health, wellbeing and finances. People are giving whatever they can and sharing what it means to have this opportunity to help.
Like Susan J. Groh, a Carolina parent.
“We have benefited from our education and our kids are getting every opportunity to succeed, but not everyone is as blessed as us. We realize that sometimes a small amount of money is the difference between someone being able to continue their education, and now with the coronavirus epidemic, those less fortunate will be impacted more than those of us with means. We are Carolina Strong!”
And a University Libraries employee who preferred to remain anonymous.
“We are making this gift for the simple reason that we are in this together. We give to our sisters and brothers in need at this moment by sharing what we have so abundantly received.”
And alumna Rochelle Riley, who gives because she is thankful.
“UNC molded me for a journey that has been amazing. This gift, like every gift, is to express my gratitude.”
Michaela said she wants everyone who contributes to the Carolina Student Impact Fund to know how much it means to her.
“I now truly understand what it means and how it feels to be a part of the Carolina family. Families — to me — provide compassion, graciousness and security. This is what you have done for me. No matter how unpredictable the world around us becomes, I know, undoubtedly, that I always have a home at Carolina.”