Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

COVID-19 shaped the class of 2024 for the better

Reflecting on the COVID-19 college experience
Ana Pietrewicz

As graduation approaches for the class of 2024, I have been reflecting on my four years at the University of Massachusetts — and most notably, the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on them.

The class of 2024 had an unfortunate run-in with COVID-19. It cut our senior year of high school short, with most of us missing out on coming-of-age events like graduation, prom, senior skip day, senior cruise and, for my town, the infamous school-administered “all-night party.” Then, our entire freshman year of college was stripped of normalcy with the fall semester entirely online and at home for most students, and the spring semester consisting of intense social distancing measures that prevented gatherings and the use of campus spaces, including most academic buildings and dining halls.

Both the end and the beginning of two new eras were missing their usual benefits – celebrations of our high school achievements and bittersweet send-off activities with peers, as well as an orientation, club fairs and events, access to academic and wellbeing resources, opportunities to socialize and even just the privilege of going to class in-person.

I was able to accept the loss of my senior year of high school and had an enjoyable summer once restrictions eased and the initial panic about the pandemic diminished. But beginning college with rules preventing the most basic, normal college activities — with even harsher punishments for breaking these rules — was very challenging.

Freshman year was my least favorite year of college, with spring 2021 being the most challenging semester. I preferred to live at home than to live on campus with suffocating restrictions. The UMass that we knew during the spring 2021 semester was limited to our dorm rooms, whether it was by eating to-go meals from the dining hall, taking most, if not all, of our classes from our desks, or small hangouts with the looming fear of an RA’s knock.

I felt anxious and trapped from spending so much time in one room, and was afraid of the repercussions of breaking any rules. At one point, there was a restriction where students were not allowed to leave their buildings unless it was for food or any other necessary purpose — we could not even go on a jog, masked and alone. I was angry at UMass for its intense restrictions and severity of punishments and for offering no resources or safe socialization alternatives to make our situation more bearable. My mental health and social anxiety had never been worse.

But while I look back on freshman year with frustration and sadness, I am also grateful for the experience; in a lot of ways, it shaped the class of 2024 for the better. Many of us became deeply bonded and have stayed friends with those we lived in the same dorms with. I am roommates and friends with the people I met freshman year, and I got to witness how much each of us bloomed once we were able to join clubs, participate in social events and develop our career aspirations.

With the resumption of regular activities during sophomore year, many of us were able to experience a limitless, fun and energetic UMass campus, without the stress of making friends and adjusting to college life for the first time. Plus, during my boredom of freshman year, I discovered that I can keep my eyes open for 11 minutes and 40 seconds without blinking — it is now my go-to fun fact.

While my experience isn’t shared among all, I imagine it’s difficult for anyone to take their post-COVID-19 college experience for granted after beginning it with so many restrictions. With a shared struggle among all of us, we can bond and connect deeper than most graduating classes — and the fact that we started at rock bottom makes our individual growth feel even more abundant.

Kate Devitt can be reached at [email protected].

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