Daniel Nguyen, Kendall Williamson, Haile Michael and Emily Yuan were among the handful of students still living on campus by March 13. Most of their 7,000 classmates left in droves two days earlier after the university canceled in-person classes and asked undergraduate students to leave the campus by the end of winter quarter on Friday, March 20, if possible, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The university announced that classes will not meet in person during spring quarter until further notice.
"If they tell us to stay home, and then they tell us they want us to come back to campus, (plane) tickets are going to be very expensive," Nguyen said as he paused from his four-person game of basketball on the virtually vacant campus.
The freshman said he plans to live in his dorm until his finals are over at the end of the week.
"It's kind of on us just to study for the finals at this point," he said. "They're giving us review materials, so people are pretty much looking at that, but no one really has an incentive to watch the (pre-recorded) lectures."
Williamson, a sophomore who planned to fly home to Georgia, said he has struggled to take advantage of the online resources and lectures that professors have recorded in empty lecture halls for students to watch online.
"That face-to-face interaction is a much better learning experience than online," he said.
Without classes to attend, Williamson said he has more freedom during the day but spends a lot of time in his dorm. While most of his friends flew home last week, the cost of leaving early was prohibitive for him.
"I would have to buy another plane ticket to go back home," he said, explaining that he'd booked his flight for after finals week before in-person classes were canceled. "Do I really have the finances to do that right now? Probably not."
For Michael, going home means traveling halfway around the world to Ethiopia.
"There's 11 hours difference between my home and here," said the freshman. Just the thought of managing his finals and the beginning of spring quarter from such a great distance convinced him to continue living in his campus dorm indefinitely, despite the threat of the coronavirus.
Yuan, who lives in the same dorm as Michael, said her roommate faced a similar situation but decided it was better to leave campus.
The moment Stanford announced its move to all online classes, her roommate bought a ticket home to Hong Kong, Yuan said. The logistics are proving to be formidable, she added.
"My roommate was saying she has her final, but it's at 3 a.m. for her," Yuan said. "If she's (in Hong Kong) doing online classes, she has to become nocturnal because all the classes are between midnight and 6 a.m. for her."
Although the students said they support the measures taken by the university, the disruptions come at a critical time in the school year when they already are under substantial academic pressure.
"There's a petition being signed by students for the finals to be canceled," Michael said last week. "There are people being stressed about what they're going to do, if they're going to go or stay here — there's a lot going on."
When the spring quarter commences on March 30, the students said they are worried where they might be taking classes: Williamson could be taking Stanford classes from his childhood bedroom on the East Coast; Michael could be sitting alone in a desolate dorm.
All of them are coming to terms with the possibility of learning without going to school. None of them have experienced anything like this before, they said. They're just trying to figure it out.
This profile originally appeared in the March 20 print edition of the Weekly and is part of our ongoing series, "Ordinary people, extraordinary times," capturing the stories of locals during the coronavirus crisis. Read more of their stories through the links below:
To view the series on one page, visit PaloAltoOnline.Atavist.com.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.