Before moving her first-year son back home to Frankfort, Ill., Cathy Vasiliakas Pleasant took to the drawing board and created some signs and “typical dorm decorations” to greet her son.
“I thought that I would make it normal,” Pleasant said. “I just wanted him to feel comfortable and that it was all going to be okay and not get any more stressed or anxious with the big change.”
Loyola administration announced March 12 classes would be moved to online instruction and students would have a week to move out of the residence halls due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Despite the challenging times, parents of students are trying to lift spirits by using creative decorations to welcome back their children.
When Pleasant’s son, Andrew, drove home with his dad, he came face-to-face with a “Welcome Loyola Univ. South Second Semester” sign referring to their hometown as another campus. As he navigated through the room he found more.
There was a picture of his parents on the door with the title “your RAs,” a door decoration — commonly used by Resident Assistants (RA) on doors to identify who lives in what dorm — and even a notebook with the “amenities” being offered, including dining hours, free wi-fi and free laundry.
Pleasant posted a picture of her decorations on the “Loyola University Chicago PARENTS” Facebook page. Within a couple of hours, more than 50 parents commented on the post with their own pictures of decorations or comments saying they loved the idea and wanted to do the same for their kids. The post has 85 comments, as of publication, and is growing as students are still moving out through Thursday.
“I was kind of happy to see that the parents thought it was a cool idea,” Pleasant said. “I can’t believe I came up with it before any other parents did.”
Renee Nowakowski, the mother of junior neuroscience major Lauren Nowakowski, was one of the parents who borrowed the idea from Pleasant but put her own spin on it since her daughter lived off-campus and opted to move home.
Nowakowski and her husband Tom wrote a letter to Lauren as her new landlords. They welcomed her back and included information such as dinner times and who to contact for maintenance issues — Lauren’s dad. They also notified her about a “squatter” who lived next door, also known as Lauren’s younger sister Abby.
Adjusting to living back home is already stressful, but Lauren is preparing for the MCAT on top of the average transition.
“I honestly teared up a little bit,” Lauren, 21, said. “I felt so lucky to have such a supporting family to come home to during such a stressful time.”
While parents largely led the charge to welcome students home, 17-year-old Emma Rose Reilly surprised her parents and her sister Grace, a first-year at Loyola, with some welcome home signs of her own placed all over the house, including a sign on the front door and door decorations adorned with pictures of the virus.
“We were pleasantly surprised when we returned home Saturday,” said Jim Reilly, Emma Rose and Grace’s father. “We laughed so hard when we pulled into our garage. After a long day of packing and driving, it was a charming welcome to our new educational reality.”
Grace said she immediately took to putting the signs on her Snapchat story, which led to comments from her friends saying how funny her sister’s decorations were.
Another parent, Heather Whitmill, said she was “disappointed” as a former RA and hall director that she didn’t think of the idea herself, but said it was “too brilliant” not to copy.
Whitmill, the mother of a Loyola first-year, recycled an old open house brochure and named their house “San Fran North.” Whitmill’s daughter was a resident of San Francisco Hall and moved back home to Milwaukee, Wis., when the announcement was made.
Whitmill said her daughter commented on the poster being cute, but ultimately it’s still a difficult time for all students involved.
“I think as students you all get in your routines and enjoy your independence, and having to come home, even for a holiday or spring break, feels weird,” Whitmill said. “Trying to learn to live with your family when you’re also trying to maintain a sense of normalcy just feels off.”