Alexandra DeMarco

Welcome back to Rocky Top, Vols! 

I know that for myself — and likely many of you as well — this winter break was a long awaited and needed respite from the everyday stress of school. With so much coursework being online last semester, and asynchronous classes leaving many to create their own schedules, it was easy to feel like it was impossible to escape schoolwork.

Additionally, the usually anticipated breaks for Labor Day and fall break were eliminated last semester in order to limit studnets’ travel and the spread of COVID-19. With little time off, last semester often felt like running a trace that was never quite over.

And unfortunately, this break was any but peaceful and was instead dotted by several days of tragedy. The U.S. set new records for daily COVID-19 deaths multiple times, with deaths exceeding 4,000 per day on several instances. With over 24 million cases and nearly 400,000 deaths, American’s pandemic situation remains worse than anywhere else in the world.

The roll-out of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has offered hope to many, but America continues to fall behind on vaccine benchmarks. For example, Operation Warp Speed planned to vaccinate 20 million Americans by Jan. 1. As of today, the U.S. is still nowhere close to that number.

Over the break, Knox County became the worst area in the country for COVID-19 cases and test positivity, as well as one of the worst places in the world overall for the virus. Tennessee in general was hit hard during the holidays, with urban areas suffering while smaller towns like Athens, Cleveland, Greeneville and Tullahoma also racked up high case counts per capita.

In addition to the desperate health situation, a Christmas morning bombing in Nashville damaged more than 40 buildings, completely destroying several of such structures. The bomb exploded from within an RN parked on 2nd Avenue. Police believe that the man behind the bombings Anthony Quinn Warner committed suicide during the bombings. Thankfully, no residents or police officers were killed in the bombings, and several fled their nearby homes just before the explosion.

Our country was also attacked on a national scale by domestic terrorists on Jan. 6. The deadly insurrection claimed the lives of five people and forced dozens of congressional representatives and other government officials to go into hiding, as the violent mob stormed through the Capitol building.

In the weeks since the incident, bipartisan action has been taken to address the insurrection and ensure that those involved are arrested. Despite quick action on the part of many, the question of how such a mob was able to enter one of the most important federal buildings in the country — during a pandemic, nonetheless — remains at the forefront of discussion, especially as the F.B.I. shared news of more possible threats.

And finally, just two days before school, UTK head football coach Jeremy Pruitt and nine other athletics department staff members were fired over allegations of recruitment misconduct. News of an investigation into Pruitt and the team surfaced in December, and Chancellor Donde Plowman issued letters of termination to the coach on Monday. Pruitt held the position for just three seasons.

Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer, who came out of retirement to take the position for a short term at Tennessee, also resigned after the news. I think it’s safe to say that if the last few years have taught as anything, it’s that we may be a basketball school, whether we like it or not.

That being said, this break was exhausting. It was frustrating at best, and scary at worst. We have a long way to go back to normalcy — a long way to go as students, as Vols, as general members of society.

The past year has been incredibly difficult for many people. As a college student, it can be frightening to be preparing to enter the workforce while so much of our country remains in dismay. 

However, I find comfort in remembering that our generation is the future. We are the politicians, doctors, professors and epidemiologists of the next several decades — and maybe even the next head and assistant coaches of the University of Tennessee football team. If we can make it through the next few years, we will have the power to sway the future. We will have the power to decide how we want our future to unfold. It’s hard to stay hopeful, but the future is depending on us.

Here’s to another (mostly) online semester. We got this, Vols.

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