It’s no secret that this semester is different. Between hybrid classes and six-foot distances, it’s been hard trying to get back into a routine. Most students on campus have at least some idea of what college is supposed to look like; what life was like before the pandemic. However, for the class of 2024, coming to campus looks a little different. During a normal year, the first few weeks of college are hard. Freshmen come into a new environment and try to build an independent life for the first time. Add a whole bunch of safety restrictions, and that struggle becomes even harder.
At the beginning of all this, everyone was asked to stay in quarantine. The class of 2024, who were high school seniors then, were forced to complete the end of their high school careers online. For some, classes became easier. Mackenzie Williams (’24) said, “Our teachers didn’t care. They said that we could do nothing and we would get 100%.” Other parts of senior year fell short as well. Maddelyn Janusch (’24) commented that “We didn’t even get to go to prom, and graduation was only a ten-minute sectioned off thing for me.” For others, like Williams, graduation wasn’t even in person but online: “I submitted a photo and watched it online with a group of my friends.” Unfortunately, others didn’t even get a graduation. Williams, Janusch and many like them were left hanging, never fully completing their senior year but needing to look toward their future. “I just wanted to go back to school and see people again,” said Williams.
Over the summer, incoming students got continuous updates about how Hope was going to keep them safe this semester. They waited patiently for social distancing guidelines, dining plans and move-in times. When asked what their first impressions of Hope’s COVID-19 plan were, many freshmen stated that they were impressed. Katherine Polick (’24) says of Hope’s plan, “My whole family was very impressed, because it was very detailed, and you could tell they wanted us to come back to campus and be as safe as possible.” Elizabeth Kim (’24) concurred with Polick’s comments, adding, “It’s one of the best [plans] I’ve heard so far.”
Hope’s plan involves restrictions that require students to physically distance. No other class at Hope has had to come to campus with these kinds of restrictions, and these can make all of the new experiences even scarier. Kim says of this new normal, “With masks and social distancing, it’s harder to get to know people.” However, this hasn’t stopped most of the class of 2024 from making their campus experience their own. During their first few days the freshmen went through orientation, though it looked a bit different from what previous classes experienced. They were in socially distanced O-groups and had to do large events, like Playfair, online. Kim went on to say that despite social distancing measures, “Orientation was good! Everyone I met was really sweet.” Polick said of her first week experiences, “Since everyone can’t have people in their rooms, everyone’s outside more and trying to make friends. Because we are all in the same boat, everyone is trying a little bit harder.” Making friends isn’t the only concern, either. Kim expressed concerns about the dining experience on campus, not only that she wouldn’t be able to sit with a big group of friends in Phelps Dining Hall, but that “there’s no buffet style and no soft serve ice cream. I was really excited about that.” Every student on Hope’s campus was once excited for their first weeks of college. For the class of 2024, though, all of that excitement is mixed with feelings of doubt and fear as they start college six feet apart with masks on.
With all of the doom and gloom freshmen could be feeling, one couldn’t be anything but impressed with how resilient the class of 2024 is. “It’s all been devastating, but you have to have hope,” says Kim. Some freshmen haven’t had time to dwell on everything they could be missing out on, since last week was the first week of classes. For freshmen that means the first week of college level courses. Transitioning from high school courses to college courses is always a big adjustment, but after the quarantine curriculum earlier in the year, even hybrid classes provide a much-needed change. Speaking of how classes have gone in the first week, Polick said, “Actually being back in a classroom again was very refreshing. I really felt like I was starting to learn things again.” Now that school is back in session, freshmen can start asking themselves the normal college questions, like “What clubs am I going to join?” and “What am I going to major in?”
In a normal year, freshmen can feel like outsiders. The Internet has no shortage of memes and posts that make freshmen the butt of the joke. However, there are some freshmen at Hope who don’t feel alienated at all. “Everyone wants to be your friend,” Polick said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re fellow freshmen or someone who’s an upperclassman. I feel like people aren’t looking down on you because of your age.” It’s important now more than ever that Hope students take care of each other. The class of 2024 is an important part of Hope’s community whose experiences will help shape how this COVID-19 semester unfolds.