In a time of plague, Sir Isaac Newton developed his theory of gravity; in quarantine, Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear.’ Six weeks ago, the COVID-19 pandemic sent Princeton’s undergraduates off-campus and back home. With the cancellation of club activities, campus jobs, and projects, Dylan Fox ’22 said to The Daily Princetonian, “Everything that gave our lives meaning is essentially gone.” So like Shakespeare and like Newton, Princeton students stuck at home have searched for ways as entertaining — if not quite as groundbreaking — to pass their time.
Sofia Alvarado ’23 has used her weeks inside to pursue interests she has less time for at school: TikTok and fashion.
Alvarado, who is also a features writer for The Daily Princetonian, began making TikToks alone and with friends during reading period in January. She described the process as “the perfect get-away” from the stress of homework.
Now, the TikTok dances have become a get-away from the realities of quarantine, too. Alvarado has doubled the number of TikTok dances she learns in a given weekend from two to four or five — and despite this, Alvardo isn’t her house’s resident TikTok star. That title belongs to her 17-year-old sister Isa, whom Alvarado helps gain traction on the app.
When she’s not busting a move, Alvarado is taking an online fashion class offered by the Institut Francais de la Mode, a fashion school in Paris, France. Entitled “Understanding Fashion: From Business to Culture,“ the class includes videos, discussion posts, and articles.
Inspired, she hopes to get involved with some fashion clubs on campus in the fall.
Another jack of all — or several, rather — trades is Megan Specht ’23, who has stayed in touch with Princeton friends by starting an online band.
What began as a joking suggestion between a group of first-years on the Engineers Without Borders Peru team has become a nine-person band, whose members are learning new instruments as they pursue one lofty goal: playing John Legend’s “All of Me.”
From home, band members have picked up guitar, piano, clarinet, recorder, and flute. Specht, who found an old keyboard in her house, is taking lessons from a friend via FaceTime. She said learning a new instrument is an easy way to relax and stay in touch with friends.
“It’s fun to take a little quick break and play the piano or try a new song, even if I completely butcher it,” she said. “It just takes my mind off the everyday stress of online classes.”
When she’s not practicing on her keyboard, Specht is cooking up a storm. After sending Snapchats of her meals to friends, she decided to start an Instagram account, @mealwithmeg, to share her quarantine cooking with a wider audience.
Specht finds recipe inspiration from New York Times Cooking suggestions. The lucky beneficiaries of her quest to perfect her shakshuka and her lemon pepper salmon? Her family, who are quickly growing accustomed to her home-cooked meals.
Specht isn’t alone in her new culinary adventures; Sameed Sayeed ’23 is also honing his cooking techniques in quarantine.
Inspired by his friends’ cooking and his mom’s delicious meals, Sayeed saw learning to cook both as a life skill and a way to pass the time. He cooks Indian dishes for his family every night and competes with his brother over whose cooking is the best.
“We compete in making Dal [a lentil dish], and we’ll both learn from our mom,” he said. “The entire family taste tests. I usually win.”
Beyond the family bonding, cooking offers Sayeed a break from lectures and homework. “It’s a huge stress relief,” he said. “I can go into another world and just forget about school or my internship or COVID-19.”
Khanh Vu ’20 is spending her quarantine developing a different skill: language. She already speaks an impressive four languages: Vietnamese, English, French, and Mandarin. But unsatisfied, she decided to add Hindi to the list.
“This is another way to supplement my time at home, so it feels like I’m doing something new,” she said.
Vu practices on Rosetta Stone for a few hours each week. She misses the personal aspect of language classes at school but calls Hindi-speaking friends to practice conversation.
Some students are opting to perfect old tricks instead of learning new ones. Last year, Ryan Eusebi ’22 diligently studied how to perfect a handstand, spending 30 to 45 minutes a night practicing with a group of his friends in the Rockefeller College common room.
“People would see me doing handstands, and I would get weird looks,” he said. “Here’s someone who just takes off his shoes at midnight, goes on the carpet, and just starts doing handstands in front of them.”
Eusebi hasn’t given up his goal in quarantine. He’s now using his upside-down time not just to get some Vitamin D in his sunny backyard, but to return to campus with two new talents: maintaining balance in a stationary handstand and walking through the Rocky dining hall on his hands.
Emilio Cano Renteria ’23 is also working on a long-term project that originated on campus: re-enacting and filming videos for each of the 46 songs in the musical “Hamilton.”
Cano Renteria and his roommate, Brad Rindos ’23, both love “Hamilton.” They bonded in the fall over their mutual indignation that no movie-version of the musical exists. So they decided to film the movie themselves, one song at a time.
After receiving positive feedback from friends in the fall, when they filmed their first two songs, Rindos and Cano Renteria resolved to see the project through.
“We have this goal to finish the entire musical by the time we graduate,” said Cano Renteria.
Before quarantine, the two had filmed songs around monuments in Washington, D.C., and they plan to film more songs in New York City when life returns to normal. For now, they have adapted their creative process for their lives at home.
When classes moved online, Cano Renteria and Rindos worried that they would fall behind on their mission, so they decided to make one more video for the year. What started as a stroke of inspiration from Cano Renteria became a Zoom version of the song “Meet Me Inside,” complete with a George Washington wig mailed from Cano Renteria in D.C to Rindos in New Jersey, an 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. filming session, and a flurry of editing the next day.
The result is a hilarious and timely version of the Broadway song, available on Rindos and Cano Renteria’s YouTube channel, where they have posted videos for 11 of the 46 songs so far.
While the “Hamilton” visionaries have temporarily stopped production as “not a lot of songs lend themselves to being filmed remotely,” being home is providing exactly the inspiration, the motivation, and, most importantly, the time that other students previously lacked to tackle challenging projects.
Dylan Fox ’22 is using his time at home to painstakingly draft a screenplay from his home in Talbott, Tennessee. The screenplay tells a crime story set in Appalachia in early 2018, the peak of the opioid epidemic — and its themes resonate in this particular moment.
“The opioid crisis is a great example of ‘we don’t care about [it] until it actually affects us,’” said Fox.
This project fits within his concentration, Practice of Art and Film. Fox’s goal is to write between 120 and 140 pages, and he’s already on his second draft. He plans to continue working on the screenplay over the summer and may develop it into a film.
As for how time in isolation is affecting his work ethic?
“I wouldn’t characterize quarantine as giving me anything,” said Fox. “It’s forcing me.”