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Lessons from a Socially Distanced First Year of College

When I was in elementary school, I received a t-shirt that said “Class of 2020” on it. I was confused. 2020 was in the distant future. My teacher explained that 2020 would be the year I graduated high school. At the time, this did not mean much to me. It was so far ahead, it almost felt untouchable. 

As each year passed, inching closer to 2020, I saw the phrase “Class of 2020” plastered on even more things – shirts, folders, water bottles, stickers, yearbooks. Naturally, my senior year of high school, as soon as the new year passed and the calendars changed to 2020, my friends and I decided, “This is going to be our year!”

Anyone who was around during 2020 knows exactly how that went. 

All of the anticipation for celebrating this monumental year resulted in, well, it seemed like nothing. I was still looking forward to going away to college, hoping for some degree of normalcy. When I finally arrived at the University of Rochester campus, I was greeted, not with the traditional singing a cappella groups, but with a long covid test swab up my nose. 

While I do not think my situation is unique (about a quarter of the undergraduate population started college in the same manner I did), I do think it provides me with a unique perspective, especially as I round out my final year here at the University of Rochester.

So, for those of you who weren’t here when the tables in Gleason library had one chair each and visiting your friend’s dorm was a punishable offense, here are the top five lessons I learned from having a socially distanced orientation and first year of college.


My custom “Class of 2020” mask I was given for my high school graduation


  1. Your first year won’t be perfect

Ever since childhood, I had daydreamed about the movie-eseque first year of college and all the fun I would have. Instead, I spent most of my first two semesters alone in a dorm room, making video calls. 

Hopefully there is not another pandemic striking the University of Rochester in the near future. But, things do happen. Maybe you come into college expecting to major in one subject, and then completely switch paths. Maybe you will meet a group of people who you think will be your best friends, but in a few weeks, you’re hanging out with other people entirely. Maybe you leave behind old passions, but end up discovering new ones. 

Your first year of college is an extremely exciting time, but don’t put too much pressure into making it perfect, especially regarding things that are out of your control. College is more enjoyable when you take challenges as they come, one step at a time. 

2.  Never take your friends for granted

Or, never take anything for granted, for that matter. Now that I know what it’s like to have to stay away from people, I try to cherish every moment I have, especially since I only have about two months left of college. Instead of counting down the days to the weekend and complaining about my workload, I try to enjoy little things, like going to the library and dining halls with my friends. I haven’t always been able to do these things, and soon it will be over, so I try to enjoy even the mundane parts of my day. 

3.  Go out and do things

I cannot tell you of a single time I have opted to do the zoom alternative of an in-person class or meeting. A lot of my friends make fun of me for this, but after a year of almost exclusively taking zoom classes (plus some more online classes scattered throughout), I have decided that showing up in-person is a thousand times more helpful and rewarding. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances, in which case Zoom is fine. However, for the most part, I will drag myself out of bed and show up to campus whenever possible, because I like talking to people much more than talking to a screen, even if it means I have to put on real pants.

4.  Have a sense of humor

Sometimes, when everything feels completely out of hand, the best thing anyone can do is make jokes about it. My sophomore year, a covid outbreak hit most of my close friends and teammates. One by one, we were all dropped off in separate quarantine housing where we had to spend a week. Not knowing what else to do, our immediate instinct was to see the humor in the situation. I still laugh when I think about our covid group chats from the time, and how chaotic life felt at the moment. Spending time in isolation housing was not fun, but we treated it like a bonding experience, and to this day we still joke about how comical the experience was.

5.  College is what you make of it

I think this one just about sums up all my thoughts on the matter. People tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to make college the best four years of their life, since this tends to be the societal expectation. For some people, this is true, and for some people, it’s absolutely not. For most, it lies somewhere in between. For this reason, it’s important to be realistic, and ready for whatever comes. While my first year of college was extremely difficult, and I never imagined eventually being someone who loved college, I now would not trade my experience at the University of Rochester for anything else. I frequently think about how far I have come in four years, and I don’t think my first-year self would ever have anticipated how happy I am with the friends I have met and the life I have made for myself. 

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