For each class currently at Wesleyan, along with those who graduated recently, a chunk of time was taken out of their high school or college experiences due to COVID-19. Our current student body is the last of students whose high school and college experiences were largely impacted, as next year’s incoming class would’ve been in eighth grade when the pandemic began. For the class of 2024, most of us lost both the end of our high school life and the beginning of the college careers we had hoped for. When the pandemic first began, we lost our senior proms, our graduation ceremonies, our spring sports, performances, and competitions. All the moments we had been waiting for to culminate in the past four years along with the “senioritis” we were told would soon kick in were suddenly replaced by moments of uncertainty, anxiety, and an unexpected feeling of wishing we could just go back to school.
For many of us, that longing for these irrecoverable moments was pushed slightly to the side with hope for a next chapter that would hopefully alleviate the process of lamenting what we could never get back. I’m aware that the pandemic affected many others far more severely than just a missed prom or graduation, and I’m grateful that this was the extent of its impact on me. Regardless of how the pandemic impacted you, it’s possible to find kinship with those with whom you share experience and, for me, that is the Wesleyan class of 2024.
While many schools stayed virtual, Wesleyan allowed us to come back in person—which at the time provided excitement and relief. I know this was certainly the case for me. I knew that going to college in the midst of a pandemic would bring challenges, but I was anxious to get back to the version of my life I had planned. Maybe I wouldn’t be going to big parties or getting involved in campus activities like I had hoped, but at least I was getting to go, unlike many of my friends who were stuck at home. I saw it as the best scenario given the circumstances.
When I got to school, however, I started to feel differently. I wished I could be home, not just in the normal homesick way, but in the going-to-college-during-a-pandemic way. Despite Wesleyan’s best efforts to return campus to a safe level of normalcy, nothing about my first year was normal. I was in a new place, ready to make friends and start this whole “college” thing, but the best option I had for doing so was inviting them to go on a walk outside wearing masks in December.
If I wanted to eat in Usdan with someone, I had to sit two table-lengths away from them. Of course, that was contingent on eating out actually being an option. Often, all dining options were grab-and-go only, and therefore many meals were spent sitting on the floor by the downstairs windows of Usdan, or eating alone at my desk while watching Netflix with headphones in. We weren’t allowed to have people in our room aside from our roommates, we weren’t going to Halloween parties and befriending others by complimenting their costume, and we weren’t getting turned away at Mezzo despite trying to look confidently 21.
Instead we were staring at Zooms from our dorm rooms (trying to see if a cute guy yawned after you did) and eating Usdan out of paper to-go boxes, while maybe talking to your roommate if you were lucky enough to get along. Needless to say, the Wesleyan I had hoped to love turned into a place of loneliness, anxiety, and pining for what I was missing out on.
Now, as a senior, Wesleyan is everything I had always thought it could be. But just as my first year I mourned the moments I had missed out on during my senior year of high school, I now mourn the time I, and the rest of the class of 2024, lost. In theory, things were somewhat normal by our sophomore year, so we only really missed out on a single year of college. But, in reality, the first year is a pivotal time to get to know one another and figure out the person you want to be for the next four years. As I see it, our class is still emotionally and socially stunted from our first year spent within the four walls of our dorm rooms.
Only now do I think we have started to branch out and come together as a class. Really, it’s not surprising that we all stuck to our own little groups, even after the school returned to its normal state. The school was normal again, but I don’t think most of us were. We certainly aren’t the same as who we were before college, and we also aren’t who we might’ve been had the pandemic not stripped us of all the moments, both little and large, that we would’ve had. The class of 2024 has experienced Wesleyan so uniquely that only we can truly relate to each other in what we went through, yet sometimes it feels like we are letting the difficulties of 2020 impact how we navigate through 2023.
I often look back at the pandemic in disbelief at how we navigated those times, and I am tempted to sit in the sadness of how my classic college experience was replaced by one that no other class has had. I can’t go back to first year and get those missed moments back, but I can choose to focus on getting everything that I can out of Wesleyan as May 26 fast approaches.
Grace Cutler is a member of the class of 2024 and can be reached at email@example.com.