Freshman have had a rough go of it. The end of their senior year of high school was ruined, and they have only known college through the lens of COVID-19. With all of the restrictions and safety guidelines it has been harder to do everything, from getting lunch at Phelps to going to club meetings, and no one will forget the drudge of online classes. The Anchor sat down with Emily Martin (’24), Amanda Darner (’24), Skylar DeWitt (’24), Anna Triezenberg (’24), Rachel McFarland (’24) and Emma Hakken (’24) to get their concluding thoughts on a freshman year like no other.
When The Anchor spoke to several freshmen at the beginning of the year, the tone was one of cautious optimism. They were ready to leave high school and excited for the next chapter, but scared that that chapter would be fraught with masks and six-foot distances. They also were fairly impressed with Hope’s level of caution in COVID safety. On the other side of this year, McFarland said, “I appreciate that they have done such a good job, but that made it very hard to meet people. I appreciate this semester there are more things going on.”
Darner explained, “I think they’ve handled it pretty well; the only thing that they could improve on is holding people accountable to wearing masks inside buildings. It’s gotten a little too relaxed as the year progressed, but other than that it’s not really that bad. It’s become ‘normal’ for me at this point, but it’s also all I know.”
Dewitt added, “As someone who is very safe, I am glad they handled it the way they did. Although the year was super hard, I’m glad we were able to have the precautions to have as much in person as we could.”
Making friends was at the top of a lot of freshmen’s minds this year. Martin explained, “I felt I was drowning with literally everything, but when I started making friends both in and out of softball, things started looking up. I had a bunch of instant friends from softball, but being intentional about my friends in class was much harder. I didn’t realize asking to grab coffee or to help go over a presentation was all it took!”
Triezenberg echoed those sentiments, saying, “I struggled to make friends first semester because I was so cautious with COVID, and there weren’t many activities I got involved with. However, second semester was much better. I learned to take all the opportunities to get involved and meet people. I learned that it was worth pushing aside coursework to grab a meal with friends or go to the gym to take care of myself, etc.”
Darner added, “It was just hard to talk to and meet people with all of the COVID regulations, but as we all adjusted it got a little easier.”
It was especially hard this year for anyone to join and participate in club activities. DeWitt said, “I joined WiSE and Prism, but it was hard this year because most things were online or outside, and the weather has not been the kindest.”
Some freshmen just circumvented clubs and found community in their academic departments or residence halls. Hakken explained, “I’m super grateful for the community I’ve met in Dykstra and the music department. Not really sure where I would be without them.”
One of the biggest changes for all students was the new normal of online classes. For freshmen, they had to get used to this new medium while also adjusting to college level work. McFarland stated simply, “It can be really draining.”
Darner added, “Online classes weren’t too bad; the back half of my senior year of high school was all online, so it wasn’t really new to me, but the course load here is definitely more than what I expected.”
Throughout the struggles of this year, many freshmen have been able to stay positive. Hakken explained, “I think this was a huge year of growth for me, and even though things are probably worse this year given the circumstances I still feel like this year has been a huge success.”
Overwhelmingly, though, the freshmen The Anchor spoke with are ready for next year. They have never seen Hope without COVID-19, so the announcement that the college would return to normal operations on August 1 was a sigh of relief for many freshmen. Darner explained, “I’m definitely excited to see what a normal Hope year looks like. I’ve heard a lot about traditions and events that usually go on, and I really want to be a part of that. I did Nykerk and Dance Marathon this year, and I’m really hoping that both of those events are in-person next year so I can get the full experience!”
Triezenberg echoed the hope, commenting, “I am really excited to hopefully learn next year what Hope was truly like before the pandemic. We still don’t know what Hope is truly like in a ‘normal’ year — almost like we will be freshmen again next year if restrictions are lifted.”
Freshmen this year understand that their experience is not typical. Darner stated, “My freshman year definitely wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, but I also didn’t know what I was expecting before I got here.”
All of the normal stresses and excitements of the first year of college have been all a little bit harder for them, but they are getting through it. The Class of 2024 is a resilient group, and this writer is probably only one of the many wishing them a much better sophomore year!