Seniors reflect on unique college experience, COVID-19

By Sarah Bond, Staff Writer

When the class of 2022 began college, none of them expected to spend two months of instruction off campus and an entire year taking primarily online courses. Fortunately, many seniors overcame the difficulties posed by COVID-19 and will be graduating in person on May 14. 

Sarah Sullivan, senior in Engineering, said she is an out-of-state student and she didn’t know a lot about the University when she came here her freshman year. Like many others, Sullivan was unhappy about missing out on the typical college experience. 

“Missing out on the end of year stuff, which is usually really fun, wasn’t fun,” Sullivan said. 

Classes were held online for the entirety of the last quarter of the 2019–2020 school year, and although students could return to campus, many classes were online for the 2020–2021 school year. A psychological study from 2020 concluded that the pandemic caused students to feel uncertain about their future and also significantly raised students’ stress levels. 

Sullivan said she liked that she could rewatch online lectures and how online office hours have stuck around. However, she said she also felt a disconnect. 

“My sophomore year, it felt like nothing really mattered anymore,” Sullivan said. “It’s definitely harder to feel connected to the class. Sometimes, you feel like ‘Oh, sorry, I really need to be paying attention right now.’”

Raefa Malik, senior in Engineering, said that because of her hands-on mechanical engineering major, online labs were a struggle.

“The (teacher’s assistant) would be giving us instructions through Zoom and wouldn’t be able to physically touch our circuits and help us out,” Malik said. “One time, I spent like six hours figuring out what was wrong with my circuit. I kept sending photos to my TA, but he couldn’t figure it out just from photos.” 

Malik also said her courses were not her top priority while she was off campus. Instead, she focused a lot more on her health and spending time with her family.

Elizabeth Meyer, senior in FAA, had a more positive experience. She said she had very compassionate and supportive professors when she was off campus during her sophomore and junior year. 

“I felt like, even though I wasn’t on campus, my professors brought the campus experience to me,” Meyer said. “I really appreciated my junior year conducting class. I would participate on Zoom like everybody else, but I would have weekly (one-on-one) meetings with my professor, Dr. Solya.”

Meihua Yang, senior in LAS, said she was unhappy living off campus during her sophomore year and was very glad to return when the campus reopened for the 2020–2021 school year.

“I felt very free,” Yang said. “I was able to actually be around my friends, I had my own apartment to sleep in and my own privacy. I had people I cared about that I was able to see on a regular basis again.” 

Sullivan said it felt more normal to be on campus her junior year, but there were still setbacks. Social situations were minimal, and it was hard for students to be with their friends.

“It was harder to see people you’d normally see every day,” Sullivan said. “During COVID-19, you would only really see your classmates and who you lived with.”

Yang said she didn’t mind the smaller social bubbles during her junior year. 

“I was always one of the people who would be sitting in the car making fun of the people without masks trying to get into parties,” Yang said. “A lot of times when me and my friends met up, we’d have masks. COVID-19 didn’t really impact me on a social level on campus.” 

Meyer said that when she finally returned to campus her senior year, she was ready to make the best of her circumstances.

“I don’t think I’ve said no to anything,” Meyer said. “I feel like I’m trying to soak up the sponge and squeeze out as much as I can from my final year. I’ve been a TA for the University Chorus, I’ve been in nine or 10 ensembles this year, groups that I never dreamed of being in my freshman year.”

Meyer also said she absolutely loves her college experience and that she’s “actually quite sad” to graduate. 

Laura Wilhelm-Barr, senior director of Special Events at the University, said in an email that she recognized the circumstances that seniors have worked through.

“Commencement … recognizes the hard work, perseverance and the tremendous accomplishments of our students,” Wilhelm-Barr said. “Perhaps more than ever before, those qualities were critical for success as students tackled new ways of learning and adapted to the challenges of a global pandemic.” 

This rings true for many seniors, as Wilheim-Barr shared that she expects a record number of graduates to participate in commencement this year. 

Despite a tumultuous period, Meyer said she is thankful for her experience at the University.

“Thinking about graduating and moving on is hard to think about, but I was given so much,” Meyer said. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else, this was the place for me.”

 

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