College During COVID-19 Blog: Graysen Golter

College During COVID-19
Graysen Golter

Graysen Golter

Editor’s Note: KXAN’s interns are both learning about the news and living it — experiencing virtual learning and changes in their college and universities because of the coronavirus pandemic. Each is keeping a weekly blog about their experiences during the fall 2020 semester. See other interns’ blogs here.

December 3, 2020

MCKINNEY (KXAN) – Well, this is it. The final blog post for the semester, and my final semester as a student at the University of Texas.

There will be many uncertain things to deal with after graduation, whether it’s searching for a job or a place to live, but one thing that’s certain is my gratitude to everyone one who’s helped me on this years-long journey, especially the people here at KXAN. I thank every reporter, anchor, producer, editor, photographer and manager I’ve interacted with here for working with me, helping me and making this internship my favorite yet.

My blog posts might have acted as place to sometimes vent anxieties or frustrations, but I don’t want to give the impression that those posts represent the tone of my experience, for it was actually quite the opposite. From being able to visit the station to helping out a crew on election night to writing some of my best journalistic work to date, this semester was an opportunity to hone my skills and make connections that could last the rest of my career, and I think I’ve accomplished those at the very least.

I’d like to use my last words particularly for the students across the country, especially those who will still be students while the pandemic rages on. To them, I say this: what you’re thinking and feeling is real and valid. You are not overreacting to what’s happening and it’s okay to be frustrated with the fact that you’ll be dealing with COVID-19 during school for the next year or so.

I don’t think it’ll be helpful or meaningful to give false platitudes about how everything will be alright in the end, so instead I’ll say this: keep doing what you’re doing. Keep being careful, keep social distancing and keep your loved ones in mind. Take the anger and frustration you’re feeling right now and put it towards educating yourself however you can and helping your community stay safe.

Take care, everyone, and be safe. Thank you.

December 3, 2020

A piece of historic military weaponry next to graves at the Restland Memorial Park in McKinney, Texas on November 20, 2020

MCKINNEY (KXAN) – For what is likely my penultimate blog post this semester, I’d like to share the story about one of my favorite journalism moments this semester.

For one of my final academic projects, I was tasked with creating a video project that I could film in my local area. I’ve always been a little skeptical about what stories can be told in a small city like McKinney, but the doubt was misplaced; I eventually read local coverage about an upcoming ceremony for Texas congressman Samuel Robert Johnson, who had died in May and was being honored with a portrait at a local courthouse.

Aside from being a politician, Johnson also served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and it was during the latter that he was shot down, captured, and imprisoned for nearly seven years at the Hanoi Hilton. It was the perfect story, but my favorite part of it was unexpected.

As a writer, I don’t have all that much experience in video work. Before going out to capture footage, I thought it would be a good idea to find a tripod that I could attach my phone to. Nothing too fancy, just to get the job down for a school project. I am a writer, after all.

Reader, I cannot convey in words how euphoric it was to use that tripod for the first time.

I mean, what a thing, right? Just a small device with three legs that you can stand up on its own, and yet it somehow alleviated so much hesitancy I had regarding the more visual means of journalism. The new phone model I got was capable enough of capturing professional footage, so slapping that on the tripod was like a puzzle finally coming together.

And the shots. I never thought I’d be capable of such professional, crisp footage for a small documentary and such basic equipment. I’ll never forget walking into a graveyard alone as the sun was setting and just being able to truly capture and translate the beauty I saw for an audience. I’d share the full video here and now if my professor wasn’t grading it.

It might just be a piece of equipment, just a small change, but it somehow made me feel even more equipped for the field after graduation. It was a small reprieve in a time of hardship, but it made the class and the semester worth it.

November 19, 2020

Seniors from Spain Park High School stand on a baseball field at a socially distanced graduation ceremony in Hoover, Ala., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

MCKINNEY (KXAN) – For a graduating senior, now would be the hardest time of my college career without a life-threatening pandemic. Forgive what may be a mindless rant.

I sit now in a strange moment of calm before an impending storm. Three final projects in one week, the plunge into the job hunt, the beginning of the rest of my life – these are all things on my horizon, and they’re minuscule compared to the mere mention of the risk of going outside.

I can only speak for my self (again, a graduating senior) but to leaving my old life behind during a pandemic leaves also a profound emptiness rather than longing. I’m leaving behind a school that I may never step foot on ahead for the foreseeable future. I’m leaving behind friends, peers and colleagues whom, instead of parting with alongside a heartfelt goodbye, will casually fade into memory and from a distance.

Harder still is to predict what will come after. Life happens when we’re making plans, and that goes doubly true for a time when our lives are put on ice. At what point do we stop waiting for things to get back to normal and when do we start accepting this as the new normal? What exactly is there to look forward to?

These troubles may very well be self-indulgent and short-term; we’ve lived through plagues before. But right now, it’s akin to continuing to bench press, long after your arms have grown numb and began, and waiting for relief to come.

November 12, 2020

Credit: txking/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

MCKINNEY (KXAN) – One of the downsides to reporting on one city from another is the risk of detachment, but a story I wrote just today showed me just how disturbing coverage can be from, even from a distance.

The story concerned a new report from the University of Texas at Austin, where a group of researchers found Texas to have the most deaths and infections from COVID-19 in prisons and jails than any other state.

One notable finding from the report was that 80% of the people who died in the state’s county jails hadn’t yet been convicted of a crime. Another was that the rate of infection in Texas prisons was over 600% higher than the national average. Black people in Texas make up 33% of both the state’s prison populations and deaths from COVID-19 but only 13% of the state population.

Texas is not a state that is unfamiliar with killing people through the justice system. Since 1982, Texas has executed 570 people on death row. With COVID-19, it seems that simply being arrested is now enough for the death penalty.

It shouldn’t be surprised that a former slave colony would be so obsessed with keeping the archaic institution that is the prison system. With a loophole in the Constitution, prisons are able to subject prisoners to save labor for profit. It’s no wonder public health crises such as racism persist to this day, and now prisons themselves are public health hazards. Unless the next four years of politics is willing to change so dramatically as to remove the for-profit prison system, we’ll only be damning the next generations.

November 5, 2020

Left to right: investigative reporter Erin Cargile, photojournalist Andrew Choat, and myself covering the 2020 election in Travis County on Nov. 3

MCKINNEY (KXAN) – The best part of traveling around Travis County tired and cold while covering the 2020 election is being too tired and cold to worry about the 2020 election.

I was lucky enough to offered the opportunity by KXAN to fly in on Election Day and shadow a news team as did their reporting rounds around the county. It meant a week of sleep deprivation, yes, but there was no where else I wanted to be as a journalist and it was a great experience to work with and learn from Erin Cargile and Andrew Choat.

As we drove around the county while interviewing voters and shooting reporter footage along the way, it was like being able to travel back in time for a short while. To temporarily go back to a time when I would have done this job like before and while actually outside was a welcome vacation from the new normal.

It wasn’t until afterwards, when I was lying in bed at 1 a.m. and waiting to get up at 6 a.m., that the situation finally weighed on me.

As I alluded to in my previous blog post, it likely won’t feel like a victory no matter what happens with this election. Like many people have expressed on social media and on news networks, the fact that the race remains this close is discouraging and a sign that the next four years may not change for the better.

It all makes me wonder, as a journalist, about how far my reach can actually go. We’ve had four years to watch the president do or attempt to do everything he said he would before he was elected, all the while media reported on his administration to varying degrees of intensity and integrity. And yet, with each candidate this season having just shy of or just above 70 million votes, it seems we didn’t change all that many minds. Or at the very least, we haven’t caused that much change at all.

October 29, 2020

Early voters form a long line while waiting to cast their ballots at the South Regional Library polling location in Durham, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Some waited almost 3 hours to vote. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

MCKINNEY (KXAN) – At least for me, part of being a young adult in their college years is coming to terms with one’s surrounding political environment.

With everything going on, this is either the best or worst time for young people to get initiated into American politics.

Before getting too pessimistic, it’s important for me to acknowledge that there have been some positive signs as this election reaches the climax. Over 8.1 million Texans have voted in the election as of Tuesday while 8.9 million Texans total voted in 2016. It’s clear people are coming out to vote in droves this year, and that’s nothing to dismiss out of hand.

But the choices people are voting for have never been more dire. On one hand, we have an incumbent candidate who has done too many things this term that even a single hyperlink feels hilariously futile in encapsulating why he might be less than desirable. On the other hand, we have a former vice president who, like the current president, put immigrant children in cages during his administration, has faced accusations of sexual assault and has refused to commit to banning fracking.

How does one reconcile that for all our freedoms and choices, this was the best our system could produce? Why must we fear that any choice we make could contribute to a greater evil?

I was just barely old enough to vote in 2016’s presidential election, and I thought at the time that my vote would help achieve a better tomorrow in a system that, faults and all, could be redeemed. If that was my initiation, I seem to face now a disillusionment. I realize now that, in many ways, true improvement and change requires something beyond this country’s current system.

What that change looks is something people smarter than me have written about and discussed. At the very least, I hope people, especially those in my age range, can see too see how miserable the economic and political system is before imagining something new.

October 22, 2020

McKinney City Council Meeting 102020
McKinney residents and city officials gather before a city council meeting at City Hall on October 20, 2020 (KXAN Photo/Graysen Golter)

MCKINNEY (KXAN) — Despite living in this city during the holidays away from college, I never considered McKinney to be my true home the way I felt Austin was. An unexpected side effect of being confined to McKinney while studying remotely was for me to begin to care more about the city that has surrounded me on and off for the last five years, a side effect that feels more obvious in retrospect.

It started out in obligatory ways due to the pandemic. Wear a mask, be mindful of your surroundings, keep your distance from people, and be aware of the decisions the local government was making. These are notions that anyone anywhere would likely become more aware of. But as I continue my journalism classes remotely, I realized I soon wouldn’t be able to help but become more in tune with McKinney and its people as a whole.

It came to a head when I chose to cover McKinney City Council meeting. The story I was writing concerned the issue of a statue of James Webb Throckmorton in the city’s downtown square. He acted as a Confederate general during the Civil War and later as the Governor of Texas. Impassioned McKinney residents spoke during the meeting of reasons for why the statue should or shouldn’t be located.

As I stood there listening to the socially-distanced meeting while my forearm grew strained from holding my recording device, I felt something I hadn’t felt since I lived in Austin the prior year: a stake, one that I shared with the community I was covering. With the people who would still be here fighting for what they believed in when I’m gone.

As a journalist, it’s easy to feel an obligation to keep an eye on the entire world lest something escapes my notice. And yet, it was writing about that Confederate statue the follow night that I felt like I was making the biggest impact in a long time, even if it was only for a school assignment. Despite everything, it’s the people around us who count the most, and this pandemic might be one of the most twisted lessons for that message.

October 15, 2020

Customers dine outside Dudley’s, Monday, June 22, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

MCKINNEY (KXAN) — “I can’t tell you how to care about other people.”

This is a line I’ve heard, both online and in person, a few times in the last several months. It’s something I thought about as I drove through the downtown square in McKinney and saw outdoor dining areas filled to the brim with people not wearing masks. I thought about it when I covered the Cinemark Theatres operating during the pandemic and saw one night a group of over twenty people gather in front of the entrance to the movie theater company’s location in Plano.

As I’ve watched this pandemic progress and observed people responding in varying degrees of caution, I’ve realized that concepts such as empathy and mindfulness aren’t permanent states of being but rather muscles that must be maintained over time lest they become atrophied. Just Wednesday, interim Travis County Judge Sam Briscoe blocked an order by Gov. Greg Abbott to open bars at 50% capacity in areas with less than a 15% hospitalization rate. Even in Europe, countries are increasing restrictions as over 700,000 new cases were reported last week.

I can’t help but feel that cases will increase over and over again as the level of caution people are willing to take goes up and down. We’ve already seen that an eagerness to get back to normal will only prolong the time we spend in this era, and yet I keep seeing people go to those same restaurants and movie theaters.

Why does my grandmother deserve to stay in-doors all day because other people refuse to be careful? Why do students deserve to feel forced to attend universities that have consistently put its communities at risk? The situation isn’t incorrigible, but we must stop pretending we’re not living in the current year and acknowledge that we can’t put luxury over human lives.

October 8, 2020

New COVID-19 guidance for UT
Students and people exploring West Campus near the University of Texas at Austin. (KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)

MCKINNEY (KXAN) — Friendship is a fickle dynamic for me as a college student, one that somehow manages to bring me both relief and insecurity as I navigate my final year at the University of Texas at Austin.

As I imagine many college students do, a big part of my success and keeping my mental health in check while studying was to maintain a group of friends. To go play pool at the Texas Union Underground or get tea on Guadalupe Street with a close-knit group of people every Friday was such as relief from the tribulations of the week, which feel much smaller compared to the current moment.

Now, it isn’t just work that many Americans have to handle remotely but relationships with peers and close friends as well.

The only people safe to interact with are the ones I’m already living with. Meeting and learning with classmates is even more difficult now that everyone is a blank, muted computer screen. Even my closest friends are harder to main contact with now that our lives have so radically diverged and the time between “hello’s” increase with every meeting.

It feels as though I’ve skipped my final year of college. I always knew I’d eventually say goodbye to those friends and peers, but I thought I would have more time and better circumstances. Now, it seems that goodbye has already occured outside my periphery, and we’re all just waiting for this time to be over so our new lives can begin without each other.

October 1, 2020

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in New Line Cinema’s horror thriller “It: Chapter 2.” (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

MCKINNEY (KXAN) — Now that the month of Halloween has begun, I wanted to mix things up and talk about something positive during the pandemic for a change: being absolutely horrified.

The horror genre is a strange concept for me during the COVID-19 era. October is one of my favorite times of the year for the spooky atmosphere, but we live in a time where the world outside could and actually have fit the plot of a horror film (see 2011’s “Contagion” by Steven Sodenbergh). And yet, it’s possibly this time that makes these works of fiction even more cathartic and enjoyable.

It feels obvious to say, but I believe the appeal lies in the simulation and resonance of real emotions, as does all art. To watch Elizabeth Moss escape her invisible stalker in this year’s “The Invisible Man” is to be right there alongside her through the journey and find relief at the same time she does.

Explicitly, many pieces in the horror genre puts the viewer through seemingly dangerous circumstances before pulling back the veil and allowing them to “survive” at the end. Implicitly, the genre tells us everything will be okay, no matter what, and we can get through whatever we may be enduring. Which is quite a message to impart in a time like this.

I want to avoid romanticizing any issue or problem in the world lest we risk becoming complacent about solving it. The coronavirus isn’t a slasher with a chainsaw meant to be escaped, and it isn’t an alien to blow up with a rocket. But it is conquerable, and I do believe we will get through this as along as we remember how real the consequences will be if we don’t.

September 28, 2020

Pandemic Pass or Fail town hall Zoom
Journalists, educators and education experts who took part in a virtual conversation on education equity (KXAN photo/Josh Hinkle)

MCKINNEY (KXAN) — Exhaustion has a name, and it’s “Zoom.”

It’s a strange, draining and infuriating feeling to be taking classes right now. The U.S. topped 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, but I’m needing to focus on watching asynchronous lectures and reading screenshots of PDFs of textbook pages. I take journalism classes that I would have adored in any other semester but cannot help but feel out of place and even outdated in the current era.

It’s a conundrum that has forced me to realize how thinly held together the world we live in really is. Government and society ask us, students or people in the workforce or otherwise, to swallow pain and chug along while vulnerable people suffer injustice and seeing their dignity disregarded, as seen in the Breonna Taylor case.

But yes, let me finish this one assignment deadline on Canvas in order to get the degree I need to survive while balancing responsibilities to my family. Let me sit dozens and dozens of hours on my bed with a laptop this semester while my professors are forced to adapt and teach in an unprecedented situation so that my classmates and I can enter a workforce that may very well not be ready to let us live. Let me compartmentalize and pretend the world outside my room isn’t real.

It’s no one individual’s fault. The systems that require us to de-prioritize what we care about are historical and pervasive. There’s only so much we can do for the world as we want it to be before being forced to deal with the world as it is. But like many of my fellow students across all levels of education are likely feeling, I’m tired. And I wish the system — my university, my government — would let us rest.

September 17, 2020

I plan to use this makeshift desk next to my bed for the majority of the semester. 9/17/20

MCKINNEY (KXAN) — To be an American college student during this pandemic is, for me at least, to be adrift on a life raft as the surrounding ocean rages and whips and stings and threatens to capsize me. And I’m one of the lucky ones.

I need to back up for a moment. Hello. My name is Graysen Golter, a journalism senior set to graduate this semester from the University of Texas at Austin. Born in Houston, I currently live at home in McKinney, Texas with my parents and grandmother. I got most of my initial journalism experience by reporting for UT’s The Daily Texan from 2018 to 2019. I was interning with CBS’s 60 Minutes in New York when the pandemic first hit. As the editor notes, I’m now a remote intern with KXAN News and I’ve been given the opportunity to write about what it’s like to be a college student during the COVID-19 era.

I plan to go into more detail with each post as the semester goes on. In short, I’m okay, and I’m thankful to be okay. But the future frightens me.

To be an American college student during this pandemic is to see your university report 95 confirmed cases of COVID-19 but also host a football game with an estimated 18,000 people in the stands. It’s to take journalism classes that require me to go out and interact with people in a state that has had a total of over 670,000 COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday and sees an average of over 3,000 new cases per day. It’s to prepare for entering a workforce in a country where 860,000 people filed for unemployment last week.

To be an American college student right now is to fear risking the lives of my loved ones every time I’m forced to leave my house.

Again, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m privileged enough to live in a good home, to take online classes remotely and to be able to take advantage of other resources to be as safe as possible during this pandemic. But I can’t speak for all of nearly 20 million American college students, because they most likely have it worse. I can speak even less for what the future holds for any of us.

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