If the loss of our senior year did not provide enough of a shock for the class of 2020, the altered college freshman experience that looms most certainly will.
In February, we imagined decorating dorm rooms and going to football games. By March, we were staring at delayed starts, an entirely or at least partially online first semester, significant changes to university housing, possibly no fall sports, and, for some, a gap year.
Disappointment abounds. So does stress. Sofia Olsson is supposed to head to Emerson College in the fall. “Being an incoming college freshman during the coronavirus pandemic feels like I am a passenger on a roller coaster that came to a screeching halt right at the apex of the ride. I put in all the work and I was so incredibly excited to start this new chapter and I had built up the idea of college so much in my mind and just as I was about to truly embark on this new journey, everything changed.”
Most schools have yet to announce a definitive plan for the fall, but the consensus appears to be some variety of a hybrid model, meaning a combination of remote and on-campus instruction. What really complicates matters, though, is the fact that states - and schools - are all at different stages of reopening. While, for example, Texas A&M University has made clear that it will have sports in the fall, all schools within the University of California system have yet to even guarantee students housing.
The UC’s aren’t alone. Charlie Keohane is headed to Middlebury in Vermont. “If my first semester isn’t on campus, then I’m planning on deferring because I don’t think it’s worth full tuition and I want to be able to experience life on campus.” Full tuition, which many schools are insisting on, is a big sticking point for families. Few are keen to pay upwards of $35,000 for a semester of weekly Zoom lectures. Many of my friends are considering taking a gap year or opting for community college if their dream schools go online.
In my opinion, the ‘what-ifs’ are really what make this wild ride so torturous. We don’t know when it will end—the social distancing, the infections, the masks. For the last four years, we have worked desperately for college admission. Now, it feels as though the finish line we have pushed tirelessly towards as high schoolers has suddenly flown away. We are sprinting with no end in sight. For all we know, our entire college experience could be characterized by a highly contagious respiratory virus.
The uncertainty is pervasive. As University of California Berkeley freshman Demetri Leones points out, “This was supposed to be an exciting transition into adult life, but there’s a possibility that we may have to take online courses from home. So the main thing I’m worried about is not being able to have a normal college freshman experience on campus.”
John Kalil, an incoming freshman at Boston College, shares her concerns. “Freshman year is integral to the college experience. It’s when you find friends, join organizations, and lay the groundwork for academic success.”
This is just a snapshot of my peers’ thoughts. All of them share a similar sense of fear and anxiety around what the fall will bring. This is not to say that the class of 2020 lacks resiliency. In fact, we have welcomed the many lessons learned from this giant group project of adaptation. We have unlocked great creativity to find new ways to connect and to learn. We have scheduled our days more thoughtfully with greater attention to those around us. We have fought estrangement with communication and division with compassion. We have acted with greater patience and grace than ever before.
The strongest lesson we have learned, however, is one of appreciation—by way of losing our old and gaining a new sense of normal. We feel remorse for the milestones we have missed but also gratitude for new sources of joy; namely, the funny web calls, the time with our family, and the new hobbies we have taken up. In losing so much time and so many milestones that typically mark the entrance into adulthood, we have gained a more mature lens with which to view the world. We have learned how to find silver linings. No other class of present or future will ever experience that depth of appreciation.
Charlotte Glass is a recent graduate from Acalanes High School and former Editor in Chief of the Blueprint. She will study Communications at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the fall.