I remember the very first day of move-in like it was yesterday. After two days of driving across the country, my family and I pulled up to the large marble sign that read “Wolman Hall.” It was exactly 7:00 a.m., and the Gilman clock tower rang just as we unloaded the car. My Cuban parents were bossing everyone around in their boisterous Spanish, trying to move through this process as efficiently as possible. It was all so rushed and we were totally unprepared for it.
I was the very first student to move into Wolman that day, and I was also the first in my family to go away for college. As a first-generation student, I had no idea what to expect from those first few days of college. It’s as if every time the clock tower rang I was questioning something new. *Ding* What is this “orientation” thing everyone keeps mentioning? *Ding* What are sororities and why do they keep asking me if I’m planning to rush? *Ding* Hold up, I can’t greet strangers with a pop kiss on the cheek?
Everything was a big question mark. I was excited to meet new people, but it felt like I was quickly whisked away from my old life. It took a while for me to realize that orientation was meant for people like me who struggled to navigate a new space and new social sphere.
This year, the Class of 2021 was similarly thrown into the unknown. The clock tower rings the same way it did when we first set foot on campus, yet our society couldn’t be more different.
With our senior year seemingly stripped away from us, it’s easy to get fixated on everything that went wrong. I could mull over the misfortunes and leave Hopkins more disgruntled and lost than when I first arrived, or I could talk about the knowledge I’ve gained as a student at the University. But is it really productive or meaningful to do so?
For me, the quality of college is rooted less in the concepts we learn and more in the connections we make. The students at Hopkins make Hopkins, otherwise it would just be a number of empty brick structures void of life. Ironically, the buildings were indeed mostly empty during quarantine, yet the spirit of Hopkins never left. The Hopkins identity ultimately brought us together, even amid a global pandemic.
Many of my fellow seniors came to terms with our new social reality over the past two semesters. When faced with limited opportunities to socialize, we found creative ways to engage with each other and explore Baltimore at the same time.
My friends and I spent more time than ever outside of the so-called “Hopkins bubble.” When we couldn’t freely socialize on the Quad, we arranged our own picnics at neighboring parks. When the Recreation Center was demolished, we traded it for the Druid Hill Park and Hopkins tennis courts, opting to exercise outside. With a more lax grading scheme in place, we gave ourselves more mental breaks and walked around the spaces we previously rushed across.
For many, social groups became vital sources of support. I, for one, am forever grateful for the network of women in my life that helped me get through senior year. My sorority sisters were there for me along every step of the way. Even though the pandemic cancelled all of the social events we were looking forward to, it hardly changed the bond I had with my sisters.
We exchanged formals and frat parties for weekend hikes in Baltimore County. Our study sessions in Brody became study hours over Zoom. Our volunteer events even took on virtual formats. In sum, we adapted and tried to make the most of a bad situation using the resources at hand.
It’s also important to realize that the experiences expressed here are a series of positive events situated in a greater story of collective grief, loss and hardship. It was a really tough year and I am lucky to have my life, my family, my friends and my future all intact. The past couple of months were made easier, in part, by my access to the University’s resources. I was connected to financial assistance, a licensed mental health professional, tri-weekly COVID-19 testing appointments and corporate-level Zoom among other things. It wasn’t until my senior year that I realized the privilege one gains once enrolled at Hopkins.
The pandemic really brought some perspective to my time at this university. I never thought I would spend my senior year online or explore various parks and trails with my friends in Maryland. Life has a way of throwing unexpected situations at us and making us explore alternative plans. Starting college for the first time is one big social transition and getting through a pandemic is another.
With graduation on the horizon, I’ve realized it’s important for people to be flexible and adapt to situations. Since that move-in day I’ve become much better at interacting with different people. Now I pick and choose who to greet with a kiss, understanding that a Latinx hello isn’t for everyone — which, by the way, is a great strategy to avoid COVID-19, too.