Sitting on the steps in the shade of North College waiting for my tour guide’s arrival, I can’t help but think back to the first time I ever approached this building back in April of 2019, while on my first tour of campus. It’s been over two years since then, and after attending the University for a year, I have still opted to be shown around again. When I’d gotten the email advertising upperclassmen tours available for small groups of sophomores, I’d at first scoffed, figuring they wouldn’t be too well attended. But as I thought about the idea more, I recognized the appeal as a sophomore myself and decided to give it a try.
While my sense of direction around campus is sufficient enough to get me to Usdan and back to my dorm room, I still feel somewhat unacquainted with the various buildings, evident in the fact that I, along with all the other first-year students, scrambled to locate my classrooms on the first day of class; when asked to give directions to a passerby, I failed miserably. However, as my tour guide tried to get a general feel for places I’d like to visit and proceeded to suggest Red and Black and Swings—both of which I have frequented even with limited points—I realized that I actually did know more than I’d initially thought. I was embarrassed that I’d thought a tour at the start of my second year of college would make up for everything I’d missed out on the first time around. Nevertheless, I was determined to have this tour give me some sort of new insight that I was sure was missing.
For juniors and seniors, this semester is somewhat of a return to how things were before—a loaded word that has come to symbolize so much. While some of the old restrictions they’ve come to know well (to-go dining and biweekly tests, for example) are still in place, it seems that there’s hope that they will experience a relatively normal last two years of college. For first-year students, this is all they’ve ever known of college. They are ravenous to experience what has been mostly unavailable to them for the past year, having finished high school (which is arguably one of the worst things a student has to do in their teenage years even without COVID-19 complications) through Zoom and having lost many of the rewards, like prom and graduation, that are supposed to make that time worthwhile. As a result, they’ve arrived hungry, roving in groups in an attempt to finally forge human connections and get a taste of a more normal schooling experience. Sophomores, on the other hand, are a little bit caught in the middle. It’s freshman year part two, so to speak, a weak sequel as so many are.
Making our way across the Center for the Arts lawn, I try to size up what I’m seeing in a new light. My tour guide points out various buildings and describes the events that occur there in a pandemic-free year, like TERP and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’d gotten glimpses of this pre-COVID-19 Wesleyan, a vibrant place where the biggest dilemma on any given weekend night was choosing which of the many overlapping events to attend. But now, being introduced to a community where this stuff could plausibly happen and finally having access to it made the potential seem all the more real. Still, it struck me as odd to feel both intimately familiar with a place (after all, I had lived here for a year) and, at the same time, a complete stranger. I realized I didn’t really know what the real Wesleyan was, and what that even meant to me.
One of the especially devastating aspects of the pandemic for young people was missing out on opportunities to connect with others their age. Even if you tried having a conversation with your parents about sensitive topics, you would be going about it in a different way. Yes, your parents were your age once too, but so much has changed since then in terms of how young people interact culturally, and the need to have a peer community to help you navigate life cannot be avoided. Your teenage years are a crucial part of life in terms of figuring out who you are and your identity. Having no connection to the outside world can damage your personal growth and mental health.
Coming back this fall, new freedoms like the Usdan salad bar and all-in-person classes were exciting in much the same way that getting the opportunity to live on campus after being cooped up at home for months was the previous year. However, while I’m grateful for the new possibilities my sophomore year presents, returning also feels bittersweet. As much as I’m aware that wallowing in a pit of what could’ve been won’t do me any good, I can’t fully swallow those lingering feelings of resentment towards what the class of 2025 gets to experience. Things like New Student Orientation, where first years are basically forced to mingle and connect through activities like the Common Moment, seem like a rite of passage that an entire class has simply missed out on with no adequate compensation. You could argue that there was an attempt at an online orientation the summer before school started via Zoom, but this was simply a poor substitute. The inability to bond in person stunted the freshman years of many, including myself. While the necessary COVID-19 restrictions kept our campus safe and the number of positive tests down, it is still worth noting that because of the way the last year transpired, current sophomores have been put at a significant disadvantage. We are a year behind, so to speak, in the realm of being a college student.
The point I am making is more general than original. Re-touring the University confirmed for me that it was too late to make up for my freshman year. I’ve come to accept, along with the rest of the world, that COVID-19 will be a driving force in the way we live and make decisions for the foreseeable future. Exactly what this means though, no one can predict. Despite the daunting reality that COVID-19 is here to stay, I still have so much to be thankful for. I am vaccinated and have access to reliable testing twice a week. I can travel and attend my school of choice away from home. I can see my friends and meet new ones. Because of all of this, I have chosen, even though it’s easier said than done, to stop dwelling on the past and the freshman-year fear of missing out (FOMO) and look at the new opportunities right in front of me. After all, the least I can do is be grateful for them.
Emma Kendall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.