When I was a nervous teenager thinking of college, my older cousins and parents would often remark: “Ahhhh… the best four years of your life,” as they fondly reminisced about their time as students. As an eager senior in high school, one can’t help but wonder about the people they’ll meet, relationships they’ll build, and the infamous frat parties they’ll attend. But, unfortunately, that is not how it always works out. The pandemic was a pivotal moment for our college experience and our lives as a whole. For the Class of 2024 specifically, it snatched away our freshman adventures and put most of our lives on pause—leaving us confused, exhausted, and very much alone as we plunge into the next chapter of our lives: sophomore year.
Freshman year in the COVID-19 pandemic felt like a fever dream. It was a constant struggle to meet people while also getting accustomed to eating out of plastic boxes in our rooms, having limited social interaction, and watching a stream of Zoom lectures. Reflecting on last year, current sophomore Luke Heald said “it was very isolating and it was a washout of a semester.” Mental health was an issue for many freshmen, and the Tufts administration failed to recognize how the lack of social connection with others was affecting students. Most of us were unaware of services such as Counseling and Mental Health Services or Ears for Peers, but truthfully, many students were putting so much energy into convincing themselves they were having a good time that they did not want to seek help.
In an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 while still giving first-year students the opportunity to meet people, Tufts established the cohort system, which grouped six to seven students together based on their residence hall floor. However, according to Heald, the cohort system “was toxic and created a hostile environment as people within the cohort had differing perspectives on COVID-19.” Heald claims that the cohort system and COVID-19 policies were not effective as freshmen continued to break them. For those who followed them, they lacked the freedom to find other communities they enjoyed if they did not click with the individuals within their cohort. Due to the difficulty of breaking out of their freshman cohort, many freshmen felt trapped and isolated in a year that was already difficult due to extreme change and homesickness. The cohort system, as well as people making friends in their dorm, led to a clique culture. People stuck to what felt safe and comfortable as many freshmen did not see sneaking into another dorm worthy of jeopardizing their education or their health. As people cocooned in their halls, freshman year failed to be what it is meant to be—a system of trial and error with different people, to see where you really fit in and feel safe and comfortable.
As we begin our sophomore year, the Class of 2024 is left perplexed and alone. What happens now? As COVID-19 precautions decrease and we meet more people, some of us may be realizing that our freshman year friends were just that—friends in freshman year—while others continue to build and grow their previous relationships. I feel like I am drifting from certain people, and I end up feeling guilty, anxious, and unsure of who I am and what I want. I hope to meet more people—people that finally click. As sophomores, we already have to start looking for housing prospects for junior year, which prompts the question: who am I really close to? And the most daunting question of all: have I found my people?
Older and wiser (by one semester), I realize that it is normal to have different friends for different things and to be a part of multiple social circles. I had to remind myself that in every relationship there are “patches” of closeness and distance, which was heightened as a result of the pandemic and Tufts’ COVID policies exacerbating the ups and downs in every friendship. After many nights of crying alone, stress-eating, and calling my parents thrice a day, I learned that change is the only constant. I have to be okay and grateful for any amount of friendship and love in whatever form they come to me.
So, one can only wonder whether college really is the best four years of our lives. When you hear stories from others and witness the glorification of college through media, you come to college with the preconceived notion that it will be a constant stream of parties, living with your best friends, and finding your new home. But, in reality, it can be hard—the sad but liberating truth is that college can be lonely. From juggling work, social life, mental health, and your own goals, college can feel like task after task with no break to breathe or relax. Add in a pandemic, and building a deep connection with someone takes even more time, energy, and effort as we navigate relationships through Zoom, masks, and the mods. Friendships are meant to flow in and out of your life as you evolve, change, and meet new people. For those who feel like they haven’t found their people or are still in search of them—it is completely and utterly normal. Friend groups shift and change and it’s hard to accept this in a time of extreme uncertainty and anxiety, leaving us clinging onto any consistency in our lives to feel sane and safe. No relationship is steady and perfect all the time; as much as college is about finding friends, it is equally about being comfortable with being alone and at peace with whomever you end up with in your four year journey.
The Class of 2024 is really a special one. Not only have we been thrown the challenge of college itself, but we have been forced to fight the beast that is COVID-19 during the “best four years of our lives.” During a time when we can’t socialize normally for our own well-being, college became even more isolating and barren than ever. Last year, many of us believed that this was the new normal, and soon lost hope. We adjusted to the new “life” that we were surviving through. Now, we are back on campus, doe-eyed and excited for what the new semester can bring us. It almost feels as if we have made it out of the dark tunnel that was freshman year, alive and ready for round two—whatever that may be.