In all brutal honesty, last year really sucked. It was hard for any student on campus to feel stable amongst hybrid classes, weekly testing, virtual alternatives to nearly every club and event and strict COVID-19 protocols that tampered with social well-being.
I will forever be grateful to Fairfield University for allowing us to all be on campus and putting in the efforts to keep us there throughout a pandemic that had caught everybody off guard. Protocols were absolutely needed for the safety of our community and Zoom was the better of two evils at the time.
The sad thing is that as a first-year student, I didn’t realize how much I was missing out on.
College wasn’t fun and imagining it as “the best four years of my life” was discouraging. Although I tried to be mindful of the restrictions tethered to the pandemic and their lack of permanency, it all often felt hopeless. I mean, there was nothing to compare my college experience to as a first year student during COVID.
I just had to keep persevering through and trusting in something I had never encountered; trust that joining clubs held over a computer screen would lead to real-life connections one day, trust that the anxiety and stress of self-teaching from flipped classroom modules would not be felt forever, trust that the energy exerted at the RecPlex running on a treadmill by myself would again one day be placed into the sport I love and trust that the community aspect of Fairfield was there but I just couldn’t feel it yet.
This is all extremely hard to trust, especially when you feel alone. We didn’t have any prior knowledge of “normalcy” at Fairfield either, so in a way this was our normal. Sure, we could have compared it to movies or social media posts from other students of years past, but it’s almost impossible to truly believe in something you haven’t experienced; it’s as if there’s something missing.
And there was.
The COVID-19 vaccines are my saving grace because their presence, leading to the majority of our Fairfield community becoming fully vaccinated, has allowed for those of us who had no other normalcy than last year to redefine it for ourselves.
Club and Division I sports teams are back to playing on fields with stands full of cheering students. Not only can I imagine how the support from the crowd of students and fans positively impacts the athletes, but it also seriously impacts students giving us the opportunity to feel a sense of community once again.
Attending the men’s soccer game against the United States Military Academy, West Point, and being submerged in a sea full of red shirts, added to Fairfield feeling a little bit more like home for me. I looked around at all the smiling faces surrounding me, I laughed with some boys who were desperately trying to start a cheer and initiate the wave, and I took pictures with my friends. All this painted a new image in my mind as to what “normalcy” at Fairfield University might be.
Similarly, the esteemed “darties” have returned on campus as students feel safer to gather. The past three Saturdays, right around mid afternoon, students from every class have gathered together in front the townhouses and at the beach to take in the warm weather and socialize with peers. Although I didn’t go to see it myself, I saw videos posted of a slip n slide created and enjoyed by students.
Although I have no personal confirmation, I heard from a friend that the Department of Public Safety officers arrived to mitigate the gathering, specifically the slip n slide, but did not necessarily reprimand students who were there to meet new people or see old friends again in a setting that has been unfamiliar to us all since March of 2020.
To me, this is a great sense of relief. I’ll admit, I had my doubts that this year would end up any different from the last. A part of me feared strict protocols and a sense of loneliness arising, once again. Honestly, I’m still a little on edge and trying not to let my hopes get too high, but instead just take this whole new experience in stride.
I think it’s safe to say we were all unsure of the percentage of the Fairfield community that would feel comfortable receiving the vaccine when it first became available, as well as of the general pandemic when variants such as Delta arose. I, however, am extremely happy with the turnout.
This year was finally the time for Fairfield to take on a new chapter, one that would nonetheless present its own challenges but would be a great step forward for everyone. I’m extremely proud to be a part of a university that seems to believe in facing challenges head on and trying to be empathetic with students who have been deprived of gatherings and events that help ensure social well-being.
It’s not just about partying or “having the college experience”, although that’s definitely a part of college life; it’s about not feeling alone, and not feeling the additional anxiety of only being able to see a couple of friends at a time on top of the overwhelming academic workloads And most importantly it’s about Fairfield beginning to feel like home.
College is hard. Spending a majority of our time as students balancing heavy academic workloads, on and off campus jobs, internships, clubs, and volunteer work is rewarding, but also mentally and physically exhausting. Each of us deserves, after last year, to be able to relax and step away from the stress of college in whichever way works best for us, keeping in mind general safety of course. I think small risks like standing in a cheering crowd at a sports game is okay! This is one of the many reasons why a lot of us got the vaccine, to have opportunities like this again without having as much fear presented.
I’ve been on campus since August 27 and these past four weeks have already brought more great memories than all of last year combined! Last year, I pushed myself to go to clubs and activities in the hopes that I’d reap the benefits of the in-person experience later on. Now, I’m finally making the connections and friendships I had so excitedly hoped for last year.
Similarly, all the social events and activities I’ve been able to attend have caused so much happiness while I am slowly discovering my new normalcy here; A normalcy filled with irreplaceable friends, unforgettable memories, and a feeling of home.