Probably speaking for many of us, I can say I certainly didn’t picture my college years to be like this. There were some moments along the way when I knew my educational pathways were going to be a bit untraditional, like when I decided to attend a community college first or apply to four-year universities several hundred miles away from where I was living. I just never factored into my plan graduating from my two-year program via a YouTube livestream, the immense losses and stress associated with living through a global pandemic or a year of online lectures after transferring to the University of Connecticut into what I envisioned “the college experience” to be.
I know there are plenty of other students at UConn who are in a similar position to myself. In fact, for roughly more than half of our current Huskies, the start of the 2021-2022 academic year marks the first time we will be officially on campus as undergraduate students. Maybe you transferred from a community college or other institution while we were online. Perhaps you’re a rising sophomore who spent last year entirely distance-learning or an international student who was unable to travel to campus. You could have even been 16 years old when the pandemic closed your high school, just graduated and are ecstatic to leave home for the first time as a rising first-semester student.
From the earliest moments spent on the UConn campus as a prospective student, I was drawn to the immense sense of community students have with fellow Huskies. We help each other and care about each other’s well-being. We grow through our mistakes and forgive one another. We laugh while eating Dairy Bar ice cream, eagerly fill Gampel Pavilion to cheer on our basketball teams and get excited to see Jonathan XIV or Tildy. After nearly two years away from this environment, making the return to campus is bound to be a bit awkward for everyone, coming with countless blunders and slipups.
This transitory time does not (and should not) be a lonely endeavor for any member of the UConn Nation. As we settle into our routines on campus, take a few minutes to chat with the person sitting next to you before lecture starts! Go try out a new club or play an intramural sport you always wanted to try, but never actually got around to testing out. If you get lost finding your way around campus, don’t hesitate to ask someone for directions. Approach your floormates if you don’t know how to work the laundry machines. After all, imperfections are perfectly natural and an expected part of understanding the environment around us.
Being in-person again is a change for us all. It is critical we utilize this time to set a precedent of kindness, compassion, and empathy when interacting with all members of our campus community, be it students, professors, administration or other staff. Be sure to also treat yourself in the same manner, not overlooking the “wins” of the day to instead dwell on embarrassing errors.
I am incredibly excited to finally do many of the things I once took for granted, like sitting in lecture halls for classes, chatting with professors after class, eating in dining halls and meeting up with friends at the Student Union. Most importantly, I am looking forward to learning and growing with you—as a classmate, friend or stranger behind you in line to grab coffee—in the time remaining before graduation, whatever your path to UConn may have been.
I hope you all feel the same.