By Emma Reilly
Many college students are familiar with the mixed emotions that accompany the first weeks of a new semester. Demanding classes and intimidating professors can leave students feeling stressed, uncertain, and unprepared.
These emotions, and more, are felt strongly by Washington College’s Class of 2024.
“We’re all a little overwhelmed,” sophomore Delaney Runge said.
Sophomores’ emotions coming into this semester are compounded by the challenges they continue to face due to a virtual freshman year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a sophomore myself, I’ve found it challenging to adapt to finding my way around campus and interacting face-to-face with professors and peers. It is hard to remember that I’m a sophomore when everything still feels so new, unfamiliar, and seriously daunting.
Whether they chose to live on campus last semester or not, many sophomores also feel that they are unfamiliar with WC’s campus in a way that has made the transition to in-person more challenging.
According to the President of the Class of 2024 sophomore Grace Apostol, she got lost when trying to find her classes on the first day of the semester.
While some members of the sophomore class lived on campus last semester, the virtual nature of most classes did not provide for a complete familiarity with campus. This sense of unfamiliarity presents an even greater challenge to those students who remained at home last semester, according to Apostol.
Sophomores’ navigational difficulties are accompanied by social unknowns.
“I feel like I’m lacking in the knowledge of campus and lacking in the knowledge of WC culture,” Runge said.
There is a sense of disconnect between sophomores and their peers due to their unconventional incorporation into the WC community.
As a class, we don’t know one other on that communal level that WC always touts. As I scramble to make my way through these first weeks back, I feel the loss of those class connections quite strongly. I feel as though the lack of class bonding activities has left many sophomores still searching for their “people.”
According to Runge, the sophomore class would feel more unified if they had gone through typical first-year programming.
“I feel like we haven’t had that moment of [feeling like] we are the Class of 2024,” Runge said.
Perspectives on the class’s lack of traditional orientation programming vary.
According to sophomore Hanna Beck, missing out on orientation gave more social freedom to the sophomore class.
“I’m OK with not having the traditional orientation,” Beck said. “I still feel like it would have been an exciting experience, but I feel like it gives [sophomores] an opportunity to meet people in our own way.”
Beck’s feeling of increased social freedom was shared by Apostol. “We’re acclimating in our own way,” Apostol said.
Additionally, having orientation now would be like “backtracking” for the sophomore class, according to Apostol.
For some, however, more organized social events would be beneficial. According to sophomore Sophia Lennox, she wanted more structured opportunities to socialize with peers — ones that don’t involve being thrown into a crowd and told to mingle.
“I was really disappointed when I found out we weren’t going to have [orientation]. They did do a little for us but coming into it I didn’t think it would be enough,” Lennox said.
The events put on for the sophomore class during the first week of the semester included a bonfire and welcome back dinner that were framed as orientation substitutes.
According to Lennox, the events were both good ideas that could have been better advertised and organized.
Many students don’t read their emails over the summer and were therefore unaware that the events were even taking place. In addition, some sophomores were still getting settled into their dorms — many for the first time ever — when the events took place, which hindered widespread participation. I’m even guilty of having opted out of some events in order to finish unpacking my things.
“We weren’t here early enough for it to be a big thing. If we were to get here Thursday, or Friday even, I feel like it would have been more effective,” Runge said.
The sophomore “orientation” events may have even benefitted from required, or at least strongly recommended, attendance. The “forced family fun” experience could have brought the sophomore class together in a similar way to traditional orientation, according to Runge.
The sense of community, unity, and friendship that often emerge from prolonged orientation programming is missed by the sophomores in light of the Class of 2025’s experiences.
“I’m happy that the freshmen were able to have [the orientation] experience, especially knowing that we didn’t, but there’s a little twinge of jealousy. I wish we had something like that,” Runge said.
While many of us may feel that same jealousy, our losses due to COVID-19 shouldn’t impede on our support of the freshman class. We should be happy and excited for them, and we should look forward to tackling an unfamiliar learning environment alongside them.
Solidarity between the freshman and sophomore classes is going to be hugely important as both groups of students face the unknown.
“You can group the freshmen with us. We’re experiencing the same things that they are,” Apostol said. “I think we’re all just really excited to be back here and to feel a sense of normalcy again.”
According to Runge, if sophomores feel disappointed about how things panned out for their own class, they should take action.
“I think it’s completely valid that we’re feeling like we’re missing out or that we were left out of these events that we should’ve gotten,” Runge said. “If we are upset about our orientation
experience then we should try to work with either the Student Government Association or Student Events Board to create something for ourselves.”
The formative bonding experiences that would have resulted from a week of orientation would have strengthened the Class of 2024’s sense of solidarity and improved its ties to the WC community — but dwelling on these losses isn’t a productive way to approach the semester.
“Grieve how you need to grieve about our freshman year…and then try to move forward. Focus on the future. How can you make this year awesome?” Lennox said.
Focusing on the positive experiences this semester has already offered will go a long way towards helping sophomores transition as a class and as individuals.
“There’s just a different vibe, a different energy going around,” Apostol said.
According to Lennox, this same energy has “transformed” her on-campus experience. “I’m actually really enjoying being a college student now,” Lennox said.
Self-care is also important as the sophomore class tackles what is likely to be an emotional and taxing start to the semester.
“I feel like we have to take pride in and acknowledge the fact that we did get through online school. We made it here, even though it may have felt weird and not real. That work was real and it does count for something,” Runge said.
According to Runge, taking time for oneself is vital as sophomores balance feelings about past and present college experiences with social and academic obligations.
In the end, the WC community should do its part to be understanding as we make the best of this transitional semester.
“Everything’s a bit different and we’re still doing things [in] new [ways]. From freshmen to senior[s], we’re all experiencing it for the first time together,” Apostol said.
It’s that kind of unity and understanding that will allow WC students to cultivate an energetic, excited, and supportive campus atmosphere this fall.