When I was younger, I pictured college as a brand new place to meet my future best friends. My parents’ closest friends were their roommates in college. They talk about all the good times they had: the parties, their favorite professors, and the road trips with friends. Needless to say, a world of masks was not what I pictured for my freshman year.
Last year on March 13th, I was coming back from my senior high school trip at Disney World. It was suddenly cut short a day and we did not know why. Instead of spending the day at Animal Kingdom, my high school friends and I spent the day watching the news in the airport talking about the first documented Covid-19 cases. We were incredibly confused when former President Trump gave the state of emergency address. I didn’t know that our trip was the last time our class would be together. Flash forward two months, I finished my last day of high school on my computer at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday. My high school graduation was in late July; only parents and students were allowed with masks on.
Our awaiting freshman year expected us to be ready to take on the next four years with open arms. They still implored us to find friends despite online clubs and classes. Social anxiety is a natural consequence of this trauma.
I was lucky enough to choose Rollins College which offered both online and in-person classes. Even with in-person interactions, I experienced a severe amount of anxiety right off the bat. I met people in online classes I could not identify because of masks. The New York Times also emphasized the dangerous mental health effects of social distancing when interviewing freshmen. Some looked forward to meeting people in elevators. “It’s the only time I get a chance to talk to people,” freshman Danny Waltrich explained. Lost experiences were going to be made up with future ones. However, clubs over zoom can’t make up for real-life experiences. When given the chance of creating safe in-person activities, they preferred virtual options. I lived in a single dorm with one visitor allowed in while trying to spread my wings. The easiest route was taken while they put my mental health on the back burner.
Freshmen dealt with all of this while colleges expected our best work ethics. Saying that our first year as an “unprecedented time” just doesn’t cut it. We have not experienced anything different to compare it to.
Of course, apprehension and stress are present from living in a bubbled world. Travel bans are lifting, masks are being taken off, and in-person interactions are happening again. Orientations with masks will be a thing of the past. Zoom will not be the only form of accepted communication, and the public is opening up with more people being vaccinated.
Still, the repercussions from such a suffocating environment couldn’t reverse overnight to me. I was absolutely overjoyed after receiving the vaccine. The idea of a somewhat normal world was absolutely invigorating, but I still have some worries. I thought to myself, “You should be excited and hopeful again!” I still find myself using the motto “fake it until you make it” when meeting up with others. Anxiety was creeping over me once more.
And that is completely okay.
I found that guilt over social anxiety is quite common from this altered college experience. I was lucky enough to make close friends during the pandemic. When asking them about how they were feeling for their upcoming sophomore year, they revealed feelings of fear and worry. When science has become increasingly polarized in politics, it is awkward to bring up conversations about the future. It is almost impossible to imagine a world where Covid-19 is an event of the past. Sure, I do not want my anxiety to stay. But I know that I am not alone.
Although this year was exceedingly hard, I took classes that I developed passions for. I gained perspectives I never understood before and made influential relationships with my professors. I was accepted to be the Events Planner of our SGA Executive Board this coming school year. From last year’s disappointment, I hope to plan safe events that students have wanted for so long. Perhaps my experience will give upcoming students happier ones. I still work on my anxiety every day, but there is no reason to take on shame. We are unified in a way. Our loneliness shaped us into who we will become.