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Posted 12/10/2020 by Ben Abram

Photo depicts Sofia Vickerman spending her time in college protesting social injustices in the streets of New York City. Taken by photographer “Ken” @gken.ny

Since current freshmen in colleges throughout the nation are having unique post-secondary experiences, TJ Alumni make a vocal return to give advice to incoming college freshmen.

The high school graduating class of 2020 was left with a chaotic finale to their senior year. All of their lives have changed drastically in the past nine months after being scattered throughout the world to extend their learning during a global pandemic. As almost a year has passed since they (or anybody) have stepped foot into the TJ building, six former Spartans from the class of 2020 put aside some time from their busy schedules to help TJ gain insight into what college life is like during a pandemic.

Most people grew up with a clear picture of what college would be like. Whether this image was produced through movies, stories from your parents or older siblings, or from your own expectations, a similarity of all these ideas typically is this sense of freedom and independence. The six former Spartans contributing to this article include Elle Maggio, at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Reece Dines, at CU Boulder, Phoebe Briney at the University of Vermont, Lucy LoJacono at Creighton University, Mary Jarecke at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Sofia Vickerman at New York University. Although they all ended up in very different locations at very different universities, all of their ideas of what college would be like had one word in common: “independent.” However, when a global pandemic is occurring and lives are at stake, having the independence to not be restricted isn’t really an option. While very necessary, these restrictions had major impacts on the experiences of these freshmen.

A major part of the college experience is the social aspects of being at a university. Having the opportunity to meet new people in your classes, dorms, and off-campus gatherings is a critical part of adjusting to this new environment. Maggio explained that she struggled to adjust to the social scene at first, “I had envisioned that I’d have a bigger social scene where I’d be able to meet a lot more people in my classes, the dorm buildings, and dining halls, but that was made a lot harder.” Being in a virtual environment surrounded by strangers can make it easy to feel alone, but it’s important to remember that every other person is experiencing the same changes and isolation as you. Dines shared, “Once you understand that everyone is just as nervous as you and you are really in it together, being social and finding ways to connect to people will be a lot easier and natural.” In a world where everything is changing, it’s important to find stability. Dines went on to recommend, “Put a lot of effort in trying to meet people your first week there. Once I got my initial group of friends, I was comfortable with going out of my way to introduce myself to people, despite the obstacles seeming to prevent being social.” 

Not only have social distance regulations created obstacles against being social, but it has also had a major impact on classes and the way college students are having to adjust to the curriculum. As a nursing major, Jarecke shared, “My major has definitely been impacted because nursing is supposed to be very hands-on, but we obviously haven’t been able to do much in person work, except a few labs throughout the semester.” As a result of COVID-19, every student in the nation has taken online courses at some point this year, and most are still currently taking online courses or some hybrid form of in-person and remote learning. With the experience of online learning at TJ in the spring, these college freshmen felt more prepared and comfortable going to college to take these online courses. Similar to how TJ and other DPS schools reacted to the pandemic, most colleges have completely canceled sports and moved classes, clubs, Greek life, and more to virtual settings. “I haven’t had a volleyball season at all. I thought that I’d be spending a lot more time with my team, having games, practices, and a jam-packed schedule. Obviously, that’s not the case,” explained Maggio, who intended to play Division III volleyball for Stevens Institute of Technology. 

These current freshmen have had to completely reallocate their free time to interests that are possible during a pandemic. This year has been hectic and had a lot of change, but there is still a lot of change that needs to be made. One of the few blessings of 2020 has been the attention brought to the social injustices that have always existed in the nation, but just reached a sort of boiling point, enough so that protests have erupted throughout not only the nation, but throughout the world, in solidarity with the Black lives that have been lost at the hands of police brutality. As a result of the ongoing fight against social injustices that we are currently living through, Vickerman’s educational pathway has been altered compared to what she originally planned. “I’m studying Psychology and Philosophy of Religion right now, but given us living in a social justice movement, I’m taking some political classes next semester to see if I can picture myself within a career like that,” said Vickerman. She has taken what this year has taught us and spent her time fighting for what is right. Vickerman went on to say, “[It] seems like our criminal justice and prison system needs some serious help… and who better than an educated Black woman to tear it apart?” Protesting and building momentum has become a regular part of Vickerman’s college experience. Vickerman added, “Living in a social justice movement in a city known for activism and people driven by work ethics that do not quit—protesting, community actions, and marching is one part of my college life and frankly, a new pillar of everyday life that we live by until ‘Justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream’ -Dr. King.” 

With the next year completely unwritten, it is likely that a lot more change is going to happen between now and August of 2021. “Prepare for things to change and possibly not go your way. Being adaptable is something that has been really important and remember that your experiences are yours,” recommended Briney. Whether you spend your time battling injustices, studying to change the world, or getting to know yourself and others, remember to keep looking out for one another. It is clear that the community at TJ will support you beyond the four years in the building. These six powerful women show prime examples of what is possible as a spartan: power and drive through the unknown. “Try to focus on things that are in your control. Reach out to faculty, family, and friends when you need help. Taking time for yourself and recharging are essential when things seem to be always out of your control,” advised LoJacono. No matter what happens in these upcoming years after you graduate, find comfort in the unknown.