In the fall of 2019, I spent my orientation attending as many events as I could pack into my schedule, exchanging chatter and contact information with anyone and everyone I met, and walking over 20,000 steps each day before collapsing, exhausted but giddy, into my bed.
The Class of 2020, on the other hand, saw their classmates for the first time as little squares on a computer screen. Students on campus were greeted not by President Pollack’s Schoellkopf Field speech, but by a quarantine period before being allowed to venture out onto the school grounds. Those students studying at home know even less about the atmosphere of the Cornell campus, about the first late-night foray into Bear Necessities and those initial awkward dorm room conversations.
Their college firsts have been disrupted in so many other ways as well. All classes have been modified to accommodate the new online format. I don’t care how much you love your major –– it’s hard to feel passionate about anything after you’ve been staring at a computer screen for six hours in a row, five days a week. Clubfest and club meetings were also moved online, and nearly all Cornell and Ithaca traditions, such as AppleFest or Homecoming weekend, were put on hold. Sacrificing enjoyment for public health was obviously necessary to keep Cornell open this school year, but it doesn’t make the transition to college any easier.
If Cornell opens up to in-person instruction this fall, Cornell should make it a priority to acclimate the Class of 2024 to the real Cornell experience and make up for some of the experiences that the pandemic snatched away. In addition to letting these students participate in orientation activities for the Class of 2025, they should also have access to exclusive orientation events, tours, social gatherings and advising sessions. Students who stayed remote the entire 2020-2021 school year especially deserve the time to connect with their peers in-person through these events. Just like every Cornellian before them has, the Class of 2024 should get the opportunity to receive in-person guidance with upperclassmen and faculty during those first few weeks. They should be able to attend orientation seminars on subjects like conducting research and study abroad. Learning the ins and outs of Cornell is hard enough during a normal semester, but having to do so for the first time during the coronavirus crisis posed difficulties that would have been unimaginable before.
Coming back to campus as Cornell reverts to its pre-pandemic state will pose new, completely different challenges. Most current freshmen had a high school senior year cut short, missing out on quintessential experiences such as graduation and prom. Now, these students have essentially lost out on a year of meeting friends, cultivating relationships with professors and making the most of the resources that come with being a Cornell student.
Last semester, I wrote about the sophomore slump and dealing with the burnout that comes from feeling like you need to start figuring your life out but not knowing where to start. I can only imagine how hard this period will be after spending freshman year in a state of pandemic-induced limbo. Our current freshmen are in the unenviable position of starting their Cornell journeys through a computer screen, and these students deserve more than to be shunted aside for the incoming batch of freshmen. Next year, more than ever, the University needs to step up and find ways to make these new sophomores feel supported as they start asking themselves questions about what they want to get out of college. The Class of 2024 still has three more years at Cornell — let’s not waste any more time and start making them count.
Katherine Yao is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her column, Hello Katie, runs every other Wednesday this semester.