The Class of 2024, and the new normal

Seniors reflect on a college experience shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic

This year’s seniors, the class of 2024, started college in August 2020, during a time of COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainty. College Days interviewed a few of these seniors to hear about how the pandemic affected their college experience.

Rachel Reger:

“COVID affected my college experience in a plethora of ways. The first being not knowing if I would even get to go to college. Due to the various restrictions and protocols put in place in 2020 to address COVID, I was unsure whether or not colleges would continue teaching courses due to health and safety concerns. However, Ripon College made attending a reality by allowing students to attend but under strict protocols. This leads to my second notable effect, which involves switching up daily life routines so that one is complying with and following the specific rules put in place. These included getting tested regularly by spitting in a tube or swabbing our own noses, wearing a mask everywhere someone went including any time they would step outside of buildings, limiting the number of visitors that could come and visit, to reporting one’s health every day to gain access into buildings. I could go on forever because, at the time in 2020 and 2021, I had no vision that these protocols would be going away. I believed that I would never get a normal college experience because socialization between peers, faculty, and family was heavily restricted and monitored to ensure safety while still attending college.

A 2021 photo of a student event, when students were required to wear masks on campus. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Marsch.

I remember finally getting the email saying masks and testing would no longer be required at Ripon College. It was like a breath of fresh air, quite literally. At first, it didn’t seem right to be in buildings and around people without masks and also possibly being fearful that a slight cough from someone next to you could be COVID. However, reflecting now as a senior it seems like COVID was so long ago. Almost as if partaking in these COVID safety measures was just a dream. I believe this notion goes to show how many seniors like myself have become resilient and have embraced change. I am not thankful that COVID occurred but I am thankful that it allowed me to truly appreciate the simple interactions one makes in the lifetime and to not take any opportunity for granted because you never know when global conflicts can prohibit you from carrying your dreams. Although COVID affected my collegiate journey, I feel stronger, more educated, and radiantly confident to take on the world post-graduation.”

Mitchell Lipinski:

The way COVID affected my experience was honestly only negative. It’s hard enough branching out and meeting new people when you come to college. Online classes, masks, and social distancing entirely ruined any chance of getting to know people. It was an emotionally and politically charged time that pinned friends and family against one another. Years after the effects are still felt by everyone, we still tend to distance in lines, there’s still markers on the floor of where it’s okay to stand and which way to travel up and down store aisles. People are more cautious of other people’s health as well as their own. Masks are a chilling reminder of a year lost inside, leaving everyone hollow when they see one. It’s unfair to say it was all bad but I can assure you, no one looks back on COVID and feels nostalgia.”

A 2020 screenshot from Campus Clear, a health app students were required to use in 2020. Screenshot courtesy of Caitlin Marsch.

Emilia Mans:

“COVID is the reason I chose to come to Ripon College in the first place; I knew that I would not be able to survive/pass a semester (or longer) of purely online classes, so I chose to attend Ripon for the fact that it did not shut down all in-person classes. If the COVID pandemic had not occurred, I would have attended another college instead.”

Calysta Kurz:

“As a first generation college student starting during the pandemic, COVID made adjusting to the new environment really difficult. Most of my classes were online and the classes that were in person were in large rooms so we were spread out. I didn’t get a chance to meet my classmates or make new friends during my first semester. We couldn’t have our dorm doors open, or have people over without masks so it made meeting people and hanging out very daunting. I think the hardest part of it all was feeling unmotivated to leave my room, and not having proper breaks to go home and see my family so I felt very isolated. COVID had a large impact on my mental health and motivation. However, not everything was bad,  I feel like I’ve become a lot more flexible especially because changes were happening so fast I now am a much more adaptable and go with the flow person than I was prior.”

As commencement draws nearer and the height of the pandemic seems further and further away in the past, the seniors interviewed by the College Days show that the effect of the pandemic on the college experience still lingers after four years.