A photo of Jessica Luong working with children

Videography by Rebecca Devereaux

Dozens of Whitman College students make an impact in the Walla Walla community each year through the Community Fellow Program, sponsored by the Student Engagement Center.

For the 2019-2020 academic year, Jessica Luong ’20, a sociology major from Honolulu, Hawaii, worked as the Healthy Eating, Active Living fellow at the city’s Department of Community Health. During the first half of the fellowship, she worked with children in area schools and introduced them to locally grown produce.

Each year, the Office of Communications creates video with student interns and fellows. This video of Luong’s fellowship was created before COVID-19 cut her experience short. She provided the reflection that follows about how the coronavirus impacted her experience, and senior year.

Learning to Appreciate the Little Things

Written by Jessica Luong

As I reflect on the transient nature of my college life at Whitman, I cannot help but wonder if my engagement in the community in the last four years has made some kind of positive difference. I think of the kids at Touchet Elementary School that hesitantly tried turnips for the first time and wonder if they will ever eat turnips again. I think of the boxes of food I packed at the BMAC Food Bank last summer and remember how excited people were to receive fresh mangoes. I wonder if there was more that I could have done to prepare for this extended period away from people. It’s hard to think of what could have been when it will never happen in the future. I hope that my time was meaningful to the people that it meant to help and engage.

I was lucky to have had an insider’s perspective in the Department of Community Health to know the people who work tirelessly to keep us safe. I know that many of their roles have been reshifted to focus on the coronavirus response. My fellowship was focused on healthy eating and active living, but those priorities have shifted slightly since the onset of COVID-19. Many public health programs, including community events and outreach, have been canceled to adhere to social distancing guidelines. I have been able to see a small health department expertly manage ambiguity daily and refocus quickly. Working with them for the past several months, I am not surprised at how effective Walla Walla County’s response to COVID-19 and communication to the community has been.

My fellowship has taught me how to appreciate the little things more. I am thankful that I had the chance to finish out a lot of my senior year, such as a satisfying conclusion to my final season as a member of the swim team. As we were traveling to Federal Way for our conference championship in mid-February, the first cases of coronavirus were just confirmed in King County. We were lucky to have completed our season and come out unaffected by the virus, unlike many spring athletes who had their seasons cut short unceremoniously. We had no idea what was in store for the rest of the semester. Last year, we braved the snow-pocalypse of West Seattle, a freak of nature that broke the team’s bus and left us stranded at a Burgerville for many hours before we got a replacement. I now look back fondly at that time and think of what a luxury it was that we could fill the restaurant’s few booths and share our frustrations over milkshakes and fries.

Although we are all physically separated right now, I am so grateful to have a safe place to call home, food security, and family and friends who are safe and available to talk to. I hope that Whitman students are able to return to campus in the fall and will treasure the fleeting moments of college life. I hope that there are structural changes in the way that we organize institutions of healthcare in order to equitably increase access and improve quality of care to underprivileged groups who are facing the brunt of COVID-19 right now.

While I was not able to have the senior year that I envisioned, I am so proud to be graduating with the most brilliant, caring, funny and resilient people I know.

Looking forward to our reunions!