A painted mural reading

Topsy-Turvy 2020

Images from an extraordinary year on campus

If we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, we would never have believed it. UW–Madison’s year included a move to all online classes in the spring, a truncated football season in the fall, and other coronavirus-related disruptions. Add in a Rose Bowl game that now seems like ancient history, and you could safely call 2020 “extraordinary.” Maybe even “phantasmagorical.”

Did it really happen? The photos that follow prove that the UW’s pandemic year wasn’t just a hallucination.

Quintez Cephus (87), wide receiver, comes up just short as he reaches for a pass late in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, California on Jan. 1, 2020.

New Year’s Fizzle Remember when losing a Rose Bowl game seemed like a tragedy? The Badgers began the year in Pasadena, even though they were runners-up for the Big Ten title.

View from the Wisconsin end zone during the 2020 Rose Bowl game

With 7:51 left in the game, the UW was leading by six points and had the ball. But Danny Davis III fumbled, and one play later, Oregon scored a touchdown. Wisconsin ended up losing 28–27.

David MacNeil and his dog Scout at the UW Veterinary Medicine facility

Who’s a Good Boy? The 2020 Super Bowl featured a surprising link to UW–Madison: not on the field but during TV commercials. WeatherTech, a company that makes car and pet accessories, created a Super Bowl ad called “Lucky Dog,” featuring Scout, a golden retriever who was the organization’s unofficial mascot.

Scout had developed a tumor on his heart, and he was treated by the UW School of Veterinary Medicine. In gratitude, WeatherTech used its airtime to promote giving to the veterinary school. Scout passed away in March.

UW Men's basketball player Micah Potter holds the Big 10 title trophy

Victory Is Sweet Men’s basketball star Micah Potter ’20, MSx’22 celebrates the team’s Big Ten title — a stunning turnaround after a difficult start. But the season ended abruptly when the Big Ten and NCAA canceled their tournaments. —Photo by David Stluka

Monitors display a CNN news broadcast as UW-Madison staff working in an Emergency Operation Center (EOC)

Situation Room In response to the coronavirus, UW–Madison sprang into action through the Emergency Operations Center. Representatives from across campus began to monitor risks, responding as necessary to protect students, faculty, and staff.

Staff member Susan Laufenberg fabricates and packages custom-made medical face shields

Problem-Solvers The printing center at the UW’s Division of Information Technology transitioned to producing 1,000 medical face shields a day for University Hospital.

Empty dorm room in UW–Madison residence hall

Bye for Now Due to growing concerns about the coronavirus, the university encouraged as many students as possible to move off campus at the start of spring break.

Brian Huynh's first-person perspective view of his laptop

All Online On March 23, the university shifted to alternate delivery of classes. Brian Huynh x’22 moved back home to finish his sophomore year from his parents’ basement, documenting his suddenly online semester in a series of photos for University Communications.

Brian Huynh works on laptop

"After dinner, I head back into the office and finish up any assignments I was working on earlier in the day. [...] I’m a night owl so I don’t go to sleep until the wee morning hours. It’s a bad habit made easier without having physical classes to attend."

Brian Huynh plays basketball in outside court

"It’s not healthy to stare at a screen all day and after a certain point my brain needs a break, so I build that into my schedule. Thankfully, I live across the street from some basketball courts that barely anyone uses, so I go there to shoot some hoops and clear my mind for a little while."

Brian Huynh in living room with his family

"While the coronavirus may have distanced the world, it has also brought my family closer together. My older sister Linda is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and I’m a sophomore, so you can imagine how little time we’ve spent with our parents in the last few years. It feels like we’re kids again these days."
—Photos by Brian Huynh

Two students dressed in graduation hats and gowns wearing face masks


Mask and Gown

UW–Madison postponed its in-person commencement ceremonies for spring 2020, but graduates like Yingzi Zhang ’19 (left) and Qiuhong Li ’20 still dressed up for photos.

In a visual tribute honoring the graduating Class of 2020, the interior arena of the Kohl Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison glows in a bath of red light at night


Glow Up

In a visual tribute honoring the graduating Class of 2020, the interior arena of the Kohl Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison glowed with red light.


graduates wearing their graduation caps and gowns are seen after breeching the construction fencing enclosing the Abraham Lincoln statue to make pictures with the landmark in front of Bascom Hall


So Close, So Far

In normal times, the university provides a ladder to boost up graduates for a memorable selfie with Honest Abe. But in the time of pandemic, it had to put up a fence. “Please come see me when it’s safe for selfies,” a socially distant Abe wrote on a nearby sign.

March for Justice On June 7, hundreds of demonstrators gathered near the Humanities Building for a Black Lives Matter Solidarity March to “stand up and speak out against racism.”

Window Wonders When protests left broken windows on State Street, artists helped transform plywood coverings into vibrant murals with hopeful calls for justice and change.

UW–Madison students (left to right) Courtney Gorum x’23, Molly Pistono x’22, and Daniel Ledin x’22 painted a tribute to victims of racial injustice.

A recently cleaned and sanitized table at the Memorial Union Terrace

Tip-Top Terrace A sanitized table is ready for visitors: Over the summer, the Terrace reopened — with safety precautions in place — after closing in spring.

Wide view of the Memorial Union Terrace where patrons sit at physically-distanced tables

With physically distanced seating, patrons could enjoy the sun-soaked campus spot thanks to online reservations. Food and drink were available, and masks and face coverings were required upon entry, while receiving service, and while exiting.

Members of a facilities planning committee meet to test installation of new Smart Restart building signage at the Health Sciences Learning Center

Everywhere a Sign

Campus gained a plethora of new signage, including at the Health Sciences Learning Center, where university staff prepared for fall semester with reminders about campus health and safety measures.

Empty Camp Randall Stadium

No Lines for the Bathrooms

In May, Camp Randall Stadium sat empty in the midst of a closed campus. Normally at that time of year, the football field would have been covered as stadium crews prepared the facility to host spring commencement. Instead, the in-person graduation event was canceled. This fall’s football season will also take place without fans.

Absentee ballot

Absentee Voting

The U.S. presidential election was one of many events affected by the pandemic. Campus found avenues to offer safe absentee voting in July for the August 11 primary.

Undergraduates and their families wear face masks as they move into residence hall

A Masked Move-In Wearing face masks and keeping a safe distance from others, undergraduates moved into Ogg Hall at the end of August.

Medical personnel administer COVID-19 tests at outdoor campus testing site

The Nose Test In early August, staff from University Health Services instructed university community members on how to self-administer a nasal swab at a COVID-19 testing tent on Henry Mall. The location was the first of three free testing sites available to students, faculty, and staff as campus prepared to reopen for fall semester.

A professor lectures in front of physically-distanced students in lecture hall

Personal Space Students wore face masks and sat at least six feet apart for a lecture by law professor Kathryn Hendley on the first day of classes. Campus reopened on September 2 with these and other Smart Restart safety protocols in place.

Outside view of dorm room windows where quarantined students have written messages

Send Help A week into fall semester, more than 2,200 students in Sellery and Witte Halls were quarantined for 14 days following an outbreak of COVID-19 in the residences. Students in Sellery wasted no time in playfully showing their feelings with signs reading “SOS,” “Send Help,” and “Free Us.”

Students wearing masks pose with crates of harvested vegetables

Vegging Out F. H. King: Students for Sustainable Agriculture (named after a legendary professor) is an idealistic UW collective that runs a two-acre organic farm in Eagle Heights. In the fall, the students gave out their produce for free at “Harvest Handouts” programs on East Campus Mall. •