Picture this: it’s a hot, sunny morning in late August 2020. You’re a freshman, and it’s your first day of class. Things on campus look different than those of college students of past generations. When this freshman class walks out of their dorm room and looks around, they notice fellow students wearing face masks, keeping their heads down, and staying away from each other.
This was the experience for many four years ago. Nearly 700 students started their first semester during the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, in 2024, the students who came to Lipscomb in 2020 as freshmen are about to graduate.
College freshmen in 2020 had just come out of high school; many of them having their senior year end early due to the spread of the pandemic. If you chat with students who entered college in 2020, chances are you’ll get a unique and sometimes surprising story about their experiences during that time.
When asked about what it was like to come to campus in the Fall of 2020, Tamyra Kirby, a senior mechanical engineering major from Brentwood, Tennessee, said, “It was interesting because the people who came before would talk about different things or events that happened on campus, but freshman and sophomore year everything felt isolated because we couldn’t hang out in groups. I had a few core friends, but I didn’t get to interact with many people.” Kirby went on to say, “I don’t know what a normal college experience would be like. We don’t know what college is like outside of starting college like how we did.”
For some students, their entrance to college wasn’t immediately fun or traditional, but instead dominated by partial isolation and separation from their peers and faculty members. The days of truly getting to know professors and being near friends wouldn’t come until late 2021 and beyond; well over a year after the initial spread of the pandemic.
Not all experiences were reported as negative, though. Some students have looked back on their start to college as a challenging but constructive time during their first foray into independence and adulthood.
Ashanti Chatman, a senior business administration major from Nashville, Tennessee, stated that experiencing isolation helped her become stronger in navigating her life. “They [her experiences of that time] made me who I am in terms of opening up to adulthood,” Ashanti said. “It opened my shell as a person. Isolation made me feel like I couldn’t express myself, but now I feel I can. I have been able to enjoy my life more.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic brought a new set of challenges for many new college students, the perseverance and determination Lipscomb tried to embody during that time to ensure everyone could safely remain on campus was truly palpable. The students who will be graduating this spring will be able to say that they navigated an uncertain time and came out the other side of it stronger. COVID-19 may have changed how we did certain things in the world back then, but it is no small feat to have endured those changes during the new and uncertain time experienced by all.