Looking back and looking forward: last year and what it can teach us

A perspective of the first-year experience during a global pandemic

Will Pittman

Being a freshman last year was very strange. 

From the very first day I arrived on campus, I had no idea what was going on or what to expect. My entire pre-orientation was a mix of confusion and improvisation, beginning the first day when my trip leader was dressed like The Man with the Yellow Hat, (and confessed to our whole group within the first few minutes he had no idea what was going on), up through the last day when our day’s meals were nowhere to be found.

    As classes started, the cloud of confusion remained. Was my class meeting in person today or on zoom? Would I ever actually get to know anyone in my class? Breakout rooms were sadly a weak alternative to genuine human interaction. Everything was in flux due to the weekly COVID-19 updates, and it seemed like just as soon as you got used to something it was changed. 

This uncertainty was present in almost every facet of daily life, and frankly, as much as Washington and Lee University would love for us to believe they knew what they were doing and had perfectly planned COVID-19 restrictions, both you and I know that is far from the truth. However, despite this pervasive uncertainty, and despite a year defined by some as awful and horrendous, I think there was a lot of value in the midst of the difficult times. 

Firstly, I was able to make great friends and bond with people I don’t think I would have in a “normal” year. The entire freshman class was essentially relegated to interacting with our respective hallmates; we ate meals together, attended virtual classes in the same common rooms, and spent many nights socializing or playing games in one another’s rooms. This is a far different scene than the normal Washington and Lee nightlife, which freshmen this year have the pleasure of experiencing.

 I’m sure a lot of sophomores see the freshmen this year and are perhaps a little jealous; they get to go out any night and have great events to attend while we were all stuck in the dorms. But I still consider my hallmates from last year some of my closest friends, and even though we are all in different fraternities or sororities now, living with different people and going to separate events, we all still communicate and spend time together. I don’t think this is the case with other classes, and I don’t think it would have been the case had I gotten the year the class of 2025 is having. 

Secondly, last year forced us to find creative ways to have fun and spend time. Lexington and the surrounding area has a lot to offer, and last year we had ample time to take full advantage of that. A day trip to Panther Falls, a night spent around the campfire at Goshen pass, camping by the Pedlar River, playing paintball — all things I did last year due to how confined the campus was. I look back on my freshman year not as a year “ruined” by COVID-19 and the accompanying restrictions, but a year in which I was afforded different opportunities and challenges, both of which inspired great personal growth. 

A situation is whatever you make it to be, and although last year could and should have been different, I don’t regret anything about it and I am glad for the way it was. This philosophy is a powerful one, for regardless of circumstances you can always find ways to enjoy yourself and the people around you. The takeaway? Instead of thinking about what you don’t have, appreciate what you do.