Students create time capsules to open on graduation day

While preparing to teach a First Year Seminar (FYS) class for the first time, professor Sandra Reed stumbled upon information about the Voyager Golden Record, a time capsule sent into space in 1977. That inspired her to create the class’ final project: students creating their very own time capsules, which they will open on their graduation day.

“(The Golden Record) is like curation on steroids,” Reed said. “And it’s a curation oriented toward an extraterrestrial audience that was sent out to the stars. And so that gave me the idea of a time capsule…they could choose what’s important to themselves, right?”

The theme of Reed’s FYS course is pervasive curation, which deals with decision making about sets of things—collection and curation in other words, she said. As Reed is a professor in the School of Art and Design, she knew she wanted her FYS class to reflect art collections and museum curations, teaching students what goes into each and how curation reflects in the real world as well. 

“Curation is pervasive throughout our society; it is everywhere,” Reed said. “When we think we’re being given options, we’re only being given a set of options from the total possible options. And that is what really drove me to develop the curation theme, is to help make visible to students what is otherwise invisible.”

Requirements for the time capsule project include a graduation ‘grit’ letter students have written to their future selves, detailing the grit they’ve showed to get to graduation, as well as a letter from a friend or family member about how proud they are. Students also decided what music they would listen to when opening their time capsules. 

Sierra Greenway, a student in Sandra Reed’s FYS class, is including a lanyard, a bottle of sand art and a cloth mask she helped her mother sew in her time capsule. “Everything is something that I personally used, made or did with my friends,” she said.

Sierra Greenway, a business management major, said she loves how unique this project is and her love of history adds to the assignment.

“A time capsule is not something I thought I would be making in college, but I’m glad that I am,” Greenway said. “Most of my friends talk about writing papers and giving presentations, but I get to do something creative and exciting… It is a fun and unique way to capture this moment in history, especially with everything that is going on right now.”

Jason Leung, a sport management major and international student from Hong Kong, is including a letter from his grandmother in his time capsule.

“She gave me this letter from the first day when I came to the U.S.,” he said. “She told me to put in my luggage, and I could see it when I was free. The letter content reminded me to take care myself, be care to everyone because this was my first time went out of my country for living and study.”

Another valuable item to Leung that he’s keeping in his time capsule is a leaflet he made containing information about protests in Hong Kong.

“There (was) a protest in the last summer 2019,” Leung said. “So when I came back to the U.S. in 2019 fall, I planned to promote the protest in U.S. So this leaflet was memorable to me.”

Hailey Nevins, a psychology major, said this assignment is like an art project to her.

“I have always been a huge fan of creating artwork,” Nevins said. “I had art classes all through high school, so it is nice to have a project for a class where I can apply my artistic abilities.”

Samuel Green, an English education major, said because he is already a sentimental person, this project is a good fit for him.

“The time capsule assignment helps me put all sorts of things I’ve kept over the years to good use,” Green said. “I have so many things from a lot of different points in my life ready to go in my time capsule that I know future me will love to open.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some students’ projects were affected, as some have items in their dorms they wanted to include, but no longer have access to their dorms. Greenway said she wanted to include items from Week of Welcome and orientation but no longer can do so.

“I also kept all the papers and other things I was given during the Week of Welcome that are still in my dorm that I can’t include,” she said. “Another thing I wanted to include was a graduation card signed by all of my friends, but because of social distancing, I cannot see them to get them to sign the card.”

Green has kept a notebook since February that he’s used as a mini memoir for this project, which also helps him document how he’s living through COVID-19.

“Since the start of COVID-19, the notebook has become more about that than anything else,” Green said. “To me, that’s exciting because this is a very unique time for everyone, and I’m documenting how I’m living through it.”

As an active member in the LGBTQ community, Green said, he has added pride themed items into his time capsule, which are more meaningful to him this year. 

“Because of COVID-19, many pride events I look forward to all year have been canceled,” Green said. “It’s made me value their role and significance in my life even more. These events are some of the only times I feel fully safe in my gender expression, and I may not have them this year due to COVID-19.”

While coronavirus has shifted aspects of the project, Reed said she is proud of how her students are adapting to changes. For example, if students are now unable to print colored photos from their freshman year to include, Reed suggested putting a thumb drive of the pictures in their capsules. That way, she said, they can print them out as part of opening the capsules.

“Everybody’s troubleshooting how to deal with those disappointments and to kind of process through it, so it’s constructive even when it’s disappointing,” she said. “I feel so pleased, so lucky that the time capsule is a constructive thing for the students to have to occupy themselves now. 

“I think it’s a surprisingly good fit for mental health and distraction and constructive looking forward to the future, looking beyond now and thinking of a time when they can look back on this rather than being so overwhelmed by what their current reality is,” Reed said.

One reason Greenway said she enjoys this project is because it will remind her of her freshman year and everything that happened during it. 

“There has been so much that has happened this year, so having a physical reminder of it is exciting,” Greenway said. “I want to be reminded of all of the good times I’ve had with my friends. I think that it will be interesting to look back on what life was like before this pandemic. 

“People are constantly talking about life going back to normal, but we don’t know if that normal is going to be the same as what it was before this situation happened; life might not change much, but it could also be drastically different, so having a reminder of what life was like before all of this happened will be interesting,” Greenway said.

Nevins said she thinks every first-year college student should create a time capsule.

“I think the time capsule project is an assignment that every first year college student should experience and have to open on graduation day to show themselves how far they have gone and the many obstacles they had to face to get to graduation,” Nevins said.

Amanda Larch can be contacted at [email protected].