Coronavirus Chaos Causes An Uncertain Future For One FAMU Student. This Is Her Story.
Editor's Note from WFSU News Director Lynn Hatter: When colleges and universities closed in March, most students returned home. This hasn’t been an extended Spring Break for students. Many had internships lined up for the summer that were canceled. Others are worried about graduating into the unknown.
Among those affected, WFSU News intern Audriana Thomas. She was set to graduate from Florida A&M University in December. A paid internship she was counting on to pay her tuition in the Fall has fallen through. COVID-19 has turned her family upside down and cast a long shadow of uncertainty over her future. This is her story.
It’s around noon on a weekday when I reach Audriana by phone. Like most college students, she left Tallahassee during spring break and hasn’t come back. She went home to Jacksonville to stay with her mother.
Prior to leaving, Audriana had begun work on the final project for her internship at WFSU News. But that work, like most things, got interrupted as life took over. Most of the interns for the spring have been trying to finish their projects remotely, and it’s been hard. Finally, with only days left in the spring semester, Audriana reached out to me to explain why she’d been so distant. She agreed to share her story.
“My parents are divorced and we have two households. So, it's like two everything-- two sets of insurance, two phone bills--and when it's divided up like that, and there's three kids (I'm the youngest kid, but my parents had two in college, one who had just graduated from college) … trying to divide money between all of us and make sure everybody's taken care of always makes money tight. In addition, we have my nephew who just turned two in March, and we've had him since December,” she said.
Audriana’s nephew stays with her and her mother. She babysits most days while her mother, who just got a promotion at work, is now traveling more for her job. The family was further squeezed when the Boeing plant in Seattle, where her father has worked for more than 30 years, was closed.
“He normally works overtime so he can send me additional money every month to basically add on to whatever I get from … my job to help pay my bills. So when he was out of work, that kind of brought things to a standstill for me.”
Audriana was working as a tutor at Florida A&M University. But her contract for that job ran out at the end of the semester. She had plans to go stay with her father in Seattle for a paid internship but received more bad news.
“Two weeks after I got to Jacksonville, after they basically sent us home from school, I got emails saying that ‘we have decided that we are not going to accept interns for the summer semester, and we will be accepting interns in the fall’. So, they basically want me to apply again in the fall.”
That was a blow, as she planned to save the money from her internship to pay for her classes in the fall. Graduation in December is now on hold until the spring.
“It's a lot to ask my parents to, you know, ‘Hey, can you guys pay out of pocket’ knowing that they're already carrying so much of the burden of our bills right now,” she said.
There has been at least one spot of good news recently for the family. Audriana’s brother was accepted into a doctorate program for physical therapy.
“He's really happy that it finally worked out for him, and I'm just really happy that I could be a part of that. On Tuesday night when we found out, it was like 10 o'clock at night, and he cried and I cried, and my mom cried because it's like, we know what all he had to go through. He told me that he was so thankful that we all helped him so much, and we're a really close-knit family, too. I think that's why it makes it so hard when you're struggling like this because we've always been close. Living in Seattle, we were 3,000 miles away from most of our family. So, we're basically all we've ever had.”
Even when she was in Florida, Audriana shuffled back-and-forth between Tallahassee and Jacksonville to care for her nephew and help her brother.
“If I think back about where I was at this time last year, I did not have Monday or Friday classes. I took all my classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. So I, what I would do is … when it got to be too much for my mom or my brother or they needed some help or some reinforcement to help take care of the baby, I would drive in on the weekends and sometimes even in the middle of the week. I can recall the time last year when I left, literally right after my class got out at, I want to say it was 10 a.m. and I was here [in Jacksonville] by like 12:30 to help watch my nephew.”
Her brother’s triumph at finally getting into a doctorate program is bittersweet.
“I feel like I'm in kind of a confusing place because this semester didn't go at all how I thought it would, and I guess my mom kind of said it best on Tuesday. After my brother got in [to school] and she was thanking me for, you know, all that I've done to help my brother get here, she said, ‘I worry about you because you always take care of everybody before you take care of yourself.’’
When she looks back on the spring, “I was thinking about how much better it probably could have went if I would have prioritized a little more. But it's like at the same time when you're watching your family go through hard times, it's hard when you know that you can't really do anything.”
After this interview, Audriana called to say she’d received some news from Florida A&M University: the school would pick up her apartment rental bill for July. That leaves the fall, though, and those plans are still up in the air.