College students have mixed emotions over changes in college life

“I guess I'm the most affected one here,” Emily Rugloski said. “I took it pretty hard because I have all my friends and we are all just so close. I run track at Concordia and it was so hard to leave everyone because we were just about to start our season for the spring and just to have that just completely gone and never to run with the seniors again and like the coaches are crying and I'm getting emotional just talking about it. Just not being able to see them every day and ... not seeing my boyfriend every day, it's just hard."

Baxter triplets Jacob (left), Emily and Sam Rugloski, who all graduated from Brainerd High School in 2018, took a moment Thursday, April 16, in the family's driveway to share their stories in response to COVID-19. All three are again under one roof, as Jacob and Emily came home after their four-year universities closed down. Sam already was home as he does online schooling at Central Lakes College. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — Emotions have been across the board for college students who flocked to their Brainerd lakes area homes after their schools closed in light of the COVID-19 response.

That’s a truth three times over for one Baxter family.

Bruce and Karen Rugloski’s home is full as their triplet children — Jacob, Emily and Sam Rugloski, all of whom graduated from Brainerd High School in 2018 — are again under one roof.

Jacob attends the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, majoring in microbiology with a double minor in biochemistry and biological computational biology; Emily attends Concordia College Moorhead, majoring in exercise science with a minor is psychology to go into occupational therapy; and Sam will earn his associate degree this spring from Central Lakes College in Brainerd, with plans to attend a four-year university this fall.


Each of the siblings has a different outlook on dealing with a new normal of living in a COVID-19 world. Sam was already doing online schooling at CLC and living at home, so adjusting to the new schedule was smooth and uneventful. Jacob and Emily were forced to move back home and have had to adjust to online schooling and not being able to partake in their college activities.

Jacob said when the COVID-19 response hit Minnesota it was perfect timing for him as he was already back home in early March for spring break. He originally planned to go back to the U of M March 15. The college extended the break for two more days before students learned they would be doing online classes the rest of the semester.

Concordia already had its spring break and Emily had a week of classes under her belt before the coronavirus shut everything down.

“We were all trying to figure out what we were going to do and the teachers didn't have any online thing set up and we're trying to hold out as long as we could,” Emily said. “But as things got worse, we got more and more emails and finally received word that we had about a week to get all our stuff and move home if we could. We have a lot of international students and they had to accommodate for that and they let some of us stay home, stay in our dorms. So half of my stuff is still at the college.”

Sam said as his siblings came home, he’s been watching the process unfold for them, with moving back home and learning how to do online schooling.

“All my friends and everyone else is coming home and it’s just a really weird thing to see,” Sam said. “It’s sad because people, even high school seniors, I feel bad for them. Basically, finishing their senior year of high school and just ending it ... prematurely. They’re not having ... commencement and basically their senior year experience is kind of cut short.

“For me personally, I haven't experienced many issues or many changes with this whole thing. CLC has been very adamant about updating their students and sending information and keeping everyone updated.”

College students may be dealing with a range of emotions. Sam said to help students he encouraged them to stay busy, get their homework done and to use a social media communication app to stay in touch with their friends.


“I’m not one who has too many dramatic emotions,” Jacob said. “I just kind of go with the flow, I just go with it. I didn’t really have any real emotional reactions to it.”

Of the siblings, Emily was emotionally impacted the most.

“I guess I'm the most affected one here,” Emily said. “I took it pretty hard because I have all my friends and we are all just so close. I run track at Concordia and it was so hard to leave everyone because we were just about to start our season for the spring and just to have that just completely gone and never to run with the seniors again, and like the coaches are crying and I'm getting emotional just talking about it. Just not being able to see them every day and ... not seeing my boyfriend every day, it's just hard.

“I miss home and I love being home, but I love being at college because that's another home.”

Emily has been making contact with her track teammates and coaches through Zoom meetings and catching up with friends through video chats, but she said it’s not the same as being with her friends face to face.

Sam, who gave Emily a hug as she talked, said he feels bad for his sister as she has a lot going on. A lot of his friends who were at universities also are home now and taking things pretty hard.

“The routines you've been used to for the past several months are just completely changed,” Sam said. “You don't really know how to adapt and you have to change your entire schedule. ... I feel like it takes time to get used to but I've kind of already set my routine and know how to function and I know it’s hard for a lot of my friends.”

Sam wants to apply for colleges to attend in the fall but he’s concerned about what’s going to happen, such as if the colleges will continue online schooling or other difficulties may occur.


Other Brainerd High School graduates also are coping with the new COVID-19 world.

Nicole Grabowski
Nicole Grabowski, a 2018 Brainerd High School graduate, paints her bedroom back home, while she stays with her mom during the governor's stay-at-home order. Grabowski is doing online schooling through the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, where she is a student. Submitted Photo

Nicole Grabowski, the daughter of Marina Grabowski of Brainerd, graduated in 2018 from BHS. She’s a sophomore at the U of M majoring in operations management and retail merchandising.

Grabowski said students were told by their professors to be prepared to go online after spring break.

“None of us expected this to happen,” she said. “We were like, ‘This is so crazy,’ and wondered how it’d work out. No one who I know has done online schooling before, so we were super uncertain on how things would work to get the education we are paying for.”

Grabowski, who rents an apartment in Minneapolis, had to decide whether she would stay at her apartment alone or go home and stay with her mom, who lives alone. She decided to go home when the governor issued the stay-at-home order so she and her mom would at least have each other for companionship.

“Since I’ve been home, school has been hard to adjust to,” she said. “It’s distracting not being in a classroom environment and hard to motivate myself. I kind of have to force myself to go to class. It’s been an adjustment, but something everyone is learning how to adapt to.”


Grabowski said another concern that brings uncertainty to her life is plans for the summer, such as jobs and internships. The Brainerd grad’s internship for the summer was canceled.

“Everything has changed and I am really uncertain now on what the next couple of weeks will look like, next months and years to come will look like,” she said.

Grabowski said she has kept in touch with her friends each day, including some video chats with a group of friends. She also has kept busy with projects at home, such as painting her bedroom.

“I never would have ever thought this or it would never have crossed my mind that something like this could happen,” Grabowski said. “Part of it is, I assume our society is so advanced that we would naturally have the technology and knowledge to prevent something like this from happening in the first place. This is a very interesting time to live in.”

Maycie Berg
2019 Brainerd High School graduate Maycie Berg takes part of a video chat with friends she met during her first year at North Dakota State University at her family home in East Gull Lake. Submitted Photo

Maycie Berg, the daughter of Heather and Donnie Berg of East Gull Lake, graduated from BHS in 2019 and is in her first year at North Dakota State University, majoring in family consumer science. Berg was home on spring break when the university extended the break and eventually went to online schooling. She said it’s hard to handle everything going on with the changes, but said the online schooling is going well.

“I actually am registering for my fall classes today,” Berg said Wednesday.


“I’ve met so many great people and great friends at college, so it was hard to come home. It’s hard as I’m missing out on all the things we were going to be doing in the coming months. ... We’ve been using Facetime, a group of five of us three times a week, to see what everyone is doing,” Berg said.

Another 2019 BHS graduate, Andrew Bontjes, the son of Becky and Steve Bontjes of Brainerd, is a freshman at South Dakota State University and majoring in data specialization. Andrew Bontjes was also on spring break when the pandemic began and was at home with his family.

“At first, the break extension kind of seemed nice, but then when we actually had school getting canceled and we went online. ... I don’t prefer it,” Bontjes said. “It doesn’t hold you as accountable to be at your classes and there’s not as much structure to it. You have a lot of free time to watch the lectures, which are recordings, and not as much communicating with your teachers. ... Personally, I don't really like (online schooling) as much. Online makes it easier to procrastinate and harder to manage everything.”

Bontjes said he had heard about the coronavirus before the pandemic declaration, but never thought it was a real, serious issue.

“I didn’t think things would get canceled,” he said. “At one point, my family decided we would be in quarantine so I never went back to get my (college) stuff and then the Minnesota stay-at-home order came.”

Bontjes said his parents are working from home and his sister, who is a senior in college, also is home, so they are all working together to do their work and schooling, which has gone well.

“Every once in a while I’ll remember there are no sports and stuff like that, but overall I’m just rolling with it,” Bontjes said. “It is what it is. It's not too big of a deal for me.”

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.


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