Interview with Michael Taylor, 11/15/2021

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐BK: This is Brandon Kaiser interviewing Michael Taylor on November 15, 2021. For Campus COVID Stories, instructor Grace Lim is also with us. Campus COVID Stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. First, could you please pronounce your name and spell it out for us?

MT: My name is Michael Taylor. My first name is spelled M-I-C-H-A-E-L. My last name is spelled T-A-Y-L-O-R

BK:For good audio recording, can you tell us again, who you are? Your major in college and your age?

MT: My name is Michael Taylor. I am 31 years old and my major is Communication Studies.

BK: I'm just gonna ask a couple questions about getting to know you a little bit. Can you tell me about where you grew up?

MT: Sure. I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. I grew up there most of my life and 00:01:00enjoyed the warm summers and warmer winters in Wisconsin.

BK: And tell me about your parents. What did they do?

MT: My mom, she was a nurse. I never knew my father. He was out of the picture when I was really young. And so yes, she's a full time nurse. I kind of ran around doing my own thing when I was a kid and got in trouble, like every typical kid does. And you know, I had two little brothers at the time down in Tennessee, and we got away with a lot of ridiculous stuff when I was a kid.

BK: Have you always planned on going to college? Or is this kind of a new thing for you?

MT: No. So, I never planned on going to college. I was told that I would never make it in college, believe it or not, because I was born dyslexic. So I always struggled with school growing up as a kid. There's four rules my mom used to 00:02:00drill into my head: either you go to college, you go to trade school, you go to the military, or you're going to end up in jail. And so, right when I had graduated high school, I enlisted in the US Army and served nine years, and that really changed my life around.

BK: Why did you end up choosing to go to UW Oshkosh?

MT: Well, it's an interesting story of how I ended up in Wisconsin to begin with. My fiance, she graduated from UW Oshkosh. At the time, I had graduated with my associates degree from a community college in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and I went to trade school to be an electrician. I started (using my) GI Bill benefits. So I had the option to go to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, or UW Oshkosh where my fiance graduated from. I ended up here when I was filming for Netflix for a TV show. It was a ghost hunting TV series that we were working on and had Wesley Eure, who created Dragon Tails. He was also on Land of the 00:03:00Lost back in the 70s. I worked for Ross Alison at the time when we were filming. So I met my fiance up here filming in Milwaukee. And her and I got really close, you know, we made it through the pandemic. Now we're getting married. And yeah, I just said, You know what, I'm gonna go to the same school you did. So I can graduate from the same place she did. That's why I chose it.

BK: So just more convenience over anything?

MT: Yeah, yeah absolutely.

BK:Can you tell me a little bit more about your schooling history before making it to UW Oshkosh

MT: I started college right when I graduated high school when I was 18. I started Pellissippi. State, I dropped out two times. And then I attempted college again, when I was in Afghanistan, and a mortar round hit the tower from the Taliban, and it knocked the internet out. So, I had to drop out of college again for the third time. I've dropped out of school three times. And then at the end of my active duty term, when I went into the National Guard, I was able 00:04:00to start Community College. I graduated from there around 2017. Then I went out to Augusta, Georgia. At the time, I was down at Fort Gordon. II went to take night classes to be an electrician. I got my electrical diploma and I got a diploma in industrial maintenance to be a technician.

BK: So you've had prior education before. Do you remember the first time you heard about COVID-19 or Coronavirus in early 2020?

MT: Well, I was actually one of the first cases to actually get COVID-19 and at the time. When I heard about it, I didn't think it was real. I had no idea. I was like, Oh boy, here comes another virus. I was unsure of it. I was skeptical. And then one day I had it and I was one of the very first cases in the United States to be documented with COVID-19.

BK: When was this?

MT: This was January of 2020, when I had COVID. I was in the hospital the first 00:05:00week of February. They kept me there for a week, I had lost about 40-45 pounds. So I weighed about 190 pounds. And I was getting sick. I was working construction at the timeThat's kind of why I think I was one of the first cases because if you work construction, and some folks listening to this may know this, you're working with people from all over the world. You're working with people from all the other countries on this job site, and you're trying to get things done. And you're working with parts from all over the world too. I knew I was sick at the time in January. And it was just it was taking weeks and weeks and weeks and I kept losing weight. So I went from 190 pounds down to 145 pounds.

BK: Did they know what it was originally? Or did you even know? At the time, especially at the beginning of this pandemic, there was a lot of confusion. A lot of nobody knew what was happening. Did you know that you had COVID-19? Were 00:06:00the doctors even skeptical? When did you come to that conclusion that this is what it is the doctors told me and everything?

MT: So it was interesting. At the time, I thought okay, I knew I was having some breathing difficulties. I had double pneumonia and my oxygen levels were down in the 80s. And they were decreasing by the day down to the 70s. It got scary. I remember when I had it, I actually thought it was from the Afghanistan burn pits. When I was in the guard, I did the search and rescue during the Gatlinburg, Tennessee fire 2016. It destroyed the whole town. So I was like, okay, maybe it's related to those burn pits. I didn't know if it was COVID or not. I just knew I couldn't breathe. It literally felt like I was dying. I was pretty much getting ready for my death, I didn't know what's gonna happen at the time. I just remember my mom coming in because she's a nurse manager in 00:07:00Tennessee. And she had talked to the head doctor, asking "What's wrong with my son?". And she goes "well, he has Coronavirus". And then my mom said, "Well, which one?". And she goes, "I don't know."

BK: Where were you at the time? You weren't in Wisconsin, correct?

MT: No, I was down in Tennessee when I had it.

BK: Okay. And then you were working at the time in construction as an electrician, correct?

MT: That's correct.

BK: When did you actually start to recover? And what are your thoughts on COVID-19 after you were one of the first ones to have it? You thought it was actually a big deal? Or did you kind of think of that beforehand?

MT: I did. I do believe in different diseases and viruses. It seems like we get them every couple 100 years, there's always something new. And if you look at the history of America, we had the Spanish flu, we had all kinds of deadly viruses that are killing people left and right, so I knew it was real. I just was hoping we could have captured it before it came to the United States. When I 00:08:00had it, I knew it was a real thing. I didn't think it was COVID at the time. I thought it was something from my military experience. And that really scared the absolute hell out of me. It took me about two months to recover from it. And I just remember, I was able to run two miles in like, 13 minutes. 13-14 minutes is my two mile run time, because of the military. Then I tried running again. And it was like 45 to an hour and I felt like I was gonna pass out. My legs felt like all my bones were sticking out. It was pretty bad. It was pretty scary at the time.

BK: So, has your outlook on COVID-19 changed since before you had contracted it? Did you think it was even worse than what people made it out to seem after you've contracted it?

MT: So my opinion on the virus itself was it's a big deal. And I think the 00:09:00saddest part of it was when I was in the hospital, people were writing me letters, they're calling me going "oh my gosh, Mike, are you okay? Do you need anything?" Praying for you and all this stuff. And then I finally got a diagnosis from the VA hospital because I still had antibodies in my blood. So they went well, you had COVID-19 Because they were able to test it. They finally had something to test it within a 90 day window .People are asking about it going "Wow, dude, I can't believe it took you that long to recover from whatever sickness you had." I said, "yeah, it was COVID." But I'll never forget what these people told me. I was livid. I was mad. I got called a liberal. I really did. I got called a liberal in East Tennessee because I had COVID. And that really puzzled me. I was upset. I was angry for a very long time.

BK: Did they think you were faking the illness or they just didn't think it was real?

MT: They didn't think it was real. They thought I was a crisis actor. That was 00:10:00sad at the time, because that's when I knew that. And this is my opinion, the greatest threat to this country is conspiracy theories. It's killing people. Until you've had something as traumatic as COVID I don't think many people will understand how lethal and scary it actually is because it may or may not even affect you, or could kill you. You know, it's such a new thing on this earth. And it's happening all over the world.

BK: How did you feel knowing that this disease was spreading after you've received it? How do you feel about the State of the Nation? Did you fear it was coming to maybe your family members or just gonna be a big pandemic? How did you feel about that at the time?

MT: I was terrified. When I had recovered from it, I knew it was going all over the place. I was worried for my family, I was worried for my friends. I was worried for people that didn't even believe in COVID because I knew that it was 00:11:00coming for them. And it did catch them in the end. And I had a couple friends that had it and they go, "Oh my gosh, Mike, you're right, that almost killed me." And I had my buddy, Sergeant Whitmire, pass away from it, unfortunately. And he was my sergeant, the National Guard. COVID killed him. It's just really sad to see that.

BK: How long after you contracted the virus? Did you decide to come to UW Oshkosh specifically for your college experience?

MT: Probably a few months, I think what made me come to you who was? Well, when I've lost all that weight working construction, I knew I couldn't do construction anymore, because there's just no way my muscles and everything else and health issues kind of just kept continuing on for a few months. So I left construction, and I told my fiance, "hey, I need to start college again, I still have some of my GI Bill benefits. Let's move to Wisconsin, let's start over, let's go to UW Oshkosh." I started here and it was the spring of 2021.


BK: How did the pandemic affect the way you prepared yourself for college?

MT: The pandemic itself with getting ready to go to school and trying to get in, it was kind of a pain, actually, it was really difficult. Everything was virtual. And this is my first time going to a University, it's a little bit different from community college and trade school. At University, you just have to learn the system, and you have to force yourself to learn it because no one's going to do it for you. At community colleges, they kind of hold your hand a little bit. Same with trade schools. It was confusing. It really was, I had to get my transcripts from another state from two different states from Georgia, and from Tennessee to Wisconsin. And it was just constantly calling and emailing people. And you're going into a different type of education institution that's just completely different, you know, from anything else that I was used to. So 00:13:00it was a challenge. It was mostly communication issues that I faced.

BK: How did you feel about classes? Were you willing to go in person? Did you prefer online? How did you approach that because of COVID-19?

MT: I actually didn't mind the online classes, I was nervous about it at first. I was like, well, I'm a little bit slower with school, I always struggled with it my whole life. That's why I was always a trades type of person. I really pushed myself with online school. And the benefit of it was it forces you, it forces you to learn the material. And I kind of enjoyed that. Because I felt like I was getting a great education in person is great too. But a lot of times, when I was in person, you kind of zone out after the teacher talks for about an hour. It's just how the brain works. You pay attention to the first 20 minutes of a lecture. And then you start to drift off you start thinking about, "oh, I got what I have to make for dinner tonight." It happens to everybody that's just 00:14:00being a human. But when you're doing online classes, you can pause it at any time and say, "oh, I want to pause this for a second." You can even rewind it because some of the lectures get posted. So I kind of enjoyed the benefit of that, you know?

BK: Has the pandemic changed your major outlook or what you want to decide to go to school for?

MT: Yes, the pandemic has definitely made me realize the value of education on having A, B, and C always on the table. You always want to have a degree in something that gets you a job, but you also want to have B and C as backup plans. So for me, for example, I'm former military so I'm getting a bachelor's degree in Communication Studies but also have a trade to be an electrician at the Union and have a trade in industrial maintenance to work on conveyor belts that break big facilities. So when COVID happened, it made me realize that it's always good to have a backup plan no matter what you're doing in your career. because you never know your job could just one day disappear, fire all its 00:15:00employees or could just go under, you never know.

BK: How did that affect your major? So how did you decide your major off of that?

MT: So I decided to major in communication studies just because I love business. And I've started these classes forever, but I am terrible at math. So I got through college algebra and statistics, got all the way up to calculus. And I was like, I can't, this isn't for me. So, I stepped down, I went to communications, because it's related to business. And having a communications degree, you get to learn really about how to network with people, which is what I love doing to begin with, and really how to work with people in different organizations. If I'm working as a construction manager, I can also use my stuff I learned in business school on how much material we need to build this location. And who do I need to talk to, to get the materials that we need and 00:16:00then calculate it, as a manager, so you know, it teaches you how to handle issues like that. And that's the valuable lessons of Communication Studies.

BK: Did your first semester here at UW Oshkosh match up with your expectations going into it?

MT: Well, when I came here, I was nervous. But you know, it ended up being such a great thing. I'm so glad it started during the pandemic. I said this to someone recently. "You know, 2020 is a year of vision. It's for you to pause and look at your life. In 2021, it's time to build, it's time to rebuild yourself, it's time to rebuild everything around you and find those aspects that you don't like about yourself and do something--now." It made me realize that, so it absolutely blew away my expectations. I realized, wow, this is a great campus, there's so many wonderful teachers, staff members that have just been super, 00:17:00super helpful. And this is a time when the world shuts down. Everyone's still helping me. And that really blew me away. They were really generous; they just got out of their way. And yeah, they really helped out. I mean, it blew away my expectations for sure.

BK: How did you feel about the protocols that they had for your first semester here with the masks that are continuing to this current date, with the masking the testings and being in quarantine, if you had close contact with a COVID-19 positive person?

MT: I really didn't mind it. To me wearing a mask is not a big deal. Because I deployed to Afghanistan, I worked with soldiers for nine years. And if, if there are soldiers in basic training that are ruck marching, wearing a mask, I can wear a mask at Walmart for five minutes, you know, it's not that big of a deal in it's keeping people safe. And that's my priority is to make sure that people are being safe. And in all reality, my goal is to save lives. If wearing a mask 00:18:00saves someone's life, then I'll work anytime a day.

BK: How did you feel about fellow students' behaviors? I know there's a lot of change for COVID and some people embraced protocols and some people didn't. How did you feel about other people, being around them and their outlook on that?

MT: Well, what the outlook is, with some of the students I've dealt with, they hated the mask. I get it wearing a mask it's not always the most comfortable thing in the world. But if the institution is making you wear masks, then if you want to go to school, or then yeah, to wear a mask, if you want to go here, it's the policy for the school. Obviously, I don't mind wearing a mask because it's cold in Wisconsin, it gets down to negative 30. It keeps my Face is warm, that's a benefit of the mask too. There's a lot of benefits and I always tell people that. I don't mind it, it keeps me warm.

BK: Can you go into detail about what the spring semester so far has been like 00:19:00for you? Class wise, protocol wise, whatever?

MT: The spring semester, it was mostly online classes, and the teachers would email you if something wasn't making sense. They worked with the kids quite a bit and with the students and they really went out of their way. They stood by their computers all the time. If I would send an email to a teacher at like midnight, they'd reply within five minutes. I was amazed! I applaud the teachers and the staff of this campus quite a bit, especially for this past spring because, you know, you got to realize this to, students are going through it and the teachers are too and they're having to adjust themselves on how they can teach their material to their students how they can grade it fairly. This past spring was a wonderful semester and same with this fall. This is a good semester too.

BK: So all teachers have been pretty lenient and kind of helping out due to the 00:20:00pandemic, you feel?

MT: Yeah, they've, they've been super helpful. And they've gotten out of their way to help students. I can't even imagine the stress of being a teacher during a pandemic, especially outside of college too. College is tough, but dealing with kids might be a little bit difficult too for even some of the high school teachers and younger kids, but they've been super beneficial here.

BK: And due to the pandemic, and the lockdown and all your experiences, did your interactions with other people change? Did you become a less social person? Or as social? Did that affect your kind of feeling towards that?

MT: I've always been a social person, but I don't like crowds. I think that's from the military going to war and all the stuff I've done. I've never been a crowd person, believe it or not, you know, it didn't really interfere with how I 00:21:00reacted to people. Because anytime I go into a grocery store, and it's busy, I kind of avoid it and order groceries online, and I'll go pick it up. And I'm kind of doing that before the pandemic. The way that I communicated over the pandemic was kind of the same mostly. I go on podcasts, I call my friends, I call my family. In that, too, I'm an outgoing person, but also like my privacy as well. So for me, it didn't really affect my way of communicating. And I still kind of feel the same way even before the pandemic. As strange as that sounds.

BK: Now in the fall of 2021, when vaccines are ready available on campus, and it's strongly advocated by the administration and the CDC, what were your thoughts on the VAX UP campaign here at UWO to get students vaccinated to win scholarships?


MT: I am a very big fan of the vaccine. You know, and this is my experience. Back in my younger years of playing punk rock and being around some pretty sketchy dudes before my military experience changed my life. I did drugs for years, and I'm pretty open about it. I've struggled with addictions to all kinds of stuff.The first time I ever tried drugs I was like, 12 or 13. I was a young kid, I had no one there to say no, I had no one. So, the vaccines are way safer than half the drugs I've done. And that's the absolute truth. I've done drugs that are way more sketchy in that vaccine. I'll just say that.

BK: I'm sure then you supported the VAX UP campaign from UWO to get people vaccinated and win possible scholarships.

MT: Vaccines have been great. I've had vaccines my whole life, especially in the military and they save people. And if you can save yourself and your loved ones, 00:23:00I mean, you're a hero for getting your vaccine. In my opinion, it's very heroic. It's a very good thing. Absolutely.

BK: With the hybrid approach that UWO has been taking, since the pandemic started, do you feel like you've gotten a good education from it? Some classes are online, some classes are in person, some are a hybrid or both. Do you think overall, you've had a good education? Or it could have been better?

MT: With the online and in person, it's made me try harder. As weird as that sounds, in a normal semester pre-pandemic, it was you go to class, you study all night, you get a grade, and you move on. When it's both you have to focus harder. It made me learn the material better, as strange as that sounds, because the whole world shut down, you can't do anything. Then you're going to your computer for a class, you're going in person as a class, you're doing the half and half stuff. So you really have to have a high level of discipline to keep up 00:24:00with the whole world being shut down. It kind of allowed me to focus more on my classes, because I'm like, "well, can't go to a ball game, can't go to a concert." Things were shutting down from COVID, during that time, I was like it's time to better myself and really learn this stuff to make my life better.

BK: Have you come across any certain challenges that you've struggled with since starting school and dealing with the pandemic during it? Have you had any specific struggles or challenges that really have been hard for you?

MT: The only hard part that I found with the pandemic is, it is both the students and teachers. It's really the communication stuff. It's like when an assignment has passed, a teacher has to communicate it in a way for everyone to understand. But she can only do so much because she can only communicate through the computer where some will put it out on the table. She'll say this is what needs to be done on a piece of paper,and she'll email it to everybody. Some 00:25:00people, they're more visual learners like myself, I'm definitely a visual, I got to see it, you know. So it was kind of hard to follow directions for me a little bit just because I got confused easily, where some people got it like that. But that was really my only issue during the pandemic. It was mostly communication issues, it was me not understanding certain assignments. Having a tutor virtual helped out, because we'd meet up online virtual, it was a zoom meeting. I had a great math tutor that helped me out last semester, and we have these little evening video tutor sessions, like, almost every day.

BK:That's good. And then, how much do you feel things are getting back to normal here in Wisconsin, or just the U.S. in general? And for that matter, what would you consider normal, that there is normal to go back to?

MT: We're going to be different, probably for the rest of our lives now, normal 00:26:00to me, is just making sure everyone safely reopens everything, and we start to unite again. And I really missed that feeling of, you know, being united, I think that our country's definitely divided itself big time. In the past two years, it's been getting worse and worse. And I'm hoping we can unite again. And I kind of miss the pre-pandemic of people just being nicer to people, I just feel like the pandemic brought out the ugliness in society, and it's made people more rude for no reason, whatsoever. It's sad, I do miss that factor. And I'm hoping we can get that just be nice to your neighbor, be nice to people, go out and do something nice for someone that you have never met in your life, and you'll change someone's life by something so simple.

BK: Then Are there any aspects about COVID life at school here at UWO that you think won't change that won't go back to stereotypical normal pre COVID?


MT: Well, this is my opinion, I think that there's always going to be people, spreading conspiracy theories, and belittling someone that's different from them. I think that it's going to take a very long time to fight back to work with those types of people. But it can be done, and I won't give up on them. You just gotta keep being nice to him. I think the nicer you are, the more gentle you're approaching people that are very, I guess angry or whatever, it's just going to take some time. It's going to take a lot of healing to try to unite everybody again. That's the thing that's going to be hard to change back I guess.

BK: Do you think there's always gonna be some sort of protocol with masks or here at the school or some sort of online hybrid? Now that they kind of started the whole program here at UWO? That there's gonna be some things that won't go back to how they were before COVID? Here at UWO


MT: No, I don't think so. I think with the mask and everything like that, I think they will go away eventually. It may take some time, it may be who knows another year, no one really knows. I do think with the fewer cases of COVID and the fewer hospitalizations in the statistics, and the medical professionals can prove that COVID's dying down, then things will go back to normal, it's going to take some time now, especially here on campus. I already know that this semester, more things have been more in the classroom and less remote. We've been slowly opening things up again. I think we're going to continue to do so as long as people are taking care of themselves or loved ones and they're getting vaccinated and they're staying home when they're sick. That's the most important thing, taking care of your loved ones.

BK: Are there any aspects of yourself? Do you think that COVID has changed for 00:29:00the better because it was a pandemic that some good came out of it for you?

MT: Yeah, I think COVID made me a better person. As weird as that sounds, I survived it. It almost killed me. But it made me reevaluate my life. It made me realize, Wow, this is what I've done. both good and bad. You know, you reflect on the bad because it's easy. It's hard to reflect on the good because you're your own worst critic. COVID For me, made me realize, okay, I have to do this in order to change this. But I was at home when the whole world was shut down. I had time to think about it and draw it out. It made me pause for a minute and realize, this is my life because of my actions. What can I do to make my life better, and my neighbor's life better? And that's really how I worked it up. COVID I believe made me a better person and made me realize how fragile humanity actually is. Your life can be gone like that.

BK: Do you have any examples of you doing that since COVID? (Situations) that 00:30:00you probably wouldn't have acted a certain way beforehand. And since it's made you a better person, do you have any certain examples you've done?

MT: I know all the restaurants. Since they started opening up, I've been leaving higher tips for some of the waitresses, and waiters, and I thank them personally, I, I stopped them. And I said, I want you to know, I really appreciate you, you may not realize this, but you are great. You're great to our society and all of us appreciate you guys working during the shutdown. And with everyone being rude.It's simple stuff like that I started doing. I started volunteering with the Afghanistan refugee program. I got involved with that a little bit.

BK: The school is also participating in getting fleece for that here at UWO.

MT: It's a great program. Madison and I started donating through a church in the local area, just cloth. And we actually start collecting different clothing for even some of the high school kids, because their parents have been laid off from 00:31:00work, they're suffering, too. And I'm trying to do more food drives for the homeless, because homeless populations have gone up, too. In order to help them out, you have to get them the right resources, you have to say, "hey, here's a homeless shelter, they can help you out with A, B, and C, to get you a job to get you cleaned up." And until we start spreading those resources and making them more available for the public, the better.

BK: It's awesome that you're doing those things.

MT: Absolutely.

BK: And then how do you think this historical event might have changed the history of the U.S. here? Do you think it's changing for the better? I know, you went into some things that turned people against each other? How do you think it'll be viewed years from now?

MT: Years from now, people are gonna see this as one of the toughest times in humanity in 2020-2021, which is actually ranked as some of the worst years on 00:32:00planet Earth for a lot of people. We're living, in my opinion, reliving a modern day version of the Great Depression, things have skyrocketed, supplies have been low. People are gonna view this just like they view the Great Depression. They had the Spanish flu going on at the time and the farmers had droughts. They had all this stuff going on. They had homes built that were there. I think they were called Hoover homes. Correct me if I'm wrong, but they lived in them, you know, the homeless did. Where now we have tent cities all over Seattle, you have tent cities in Portland, you have tent cities in Los Angeles, and even in Milwaukee. So we're living, in my opinion, a modern day version of the Great Depression. And we got to call it out for what it is, and we got to help each other out. We all need each other. Everybody needs to help your neighbor out. And that's going to help us heal.

Do you have anything else you'd want to add?

MT: Well, I just wanted to say, take care of each other. Life is so short, being 00:33:00nice to people and just doing something, so small. It can change someone's life.

BK: Thank you for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate your contribution to the campus COVID Stories here at UW Oshkosh.

MT: Thank you