Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 22, 2021

On feeling like a fourth-year freshman

By SOPHIA LOLA | September 12, 2021

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FILE PHOTO

Lola returns to campus as a senior after more than a year of online classes.

One of my friends keeps joking that Hopkins has three classes of freshmen this year. And while I don’t want to make light of the serious loss we’ve all suffered in our education (and other areas of life), he’s not exactly wrong. There are the juniors, who had their actual freshman year cut short; the sophomores, some of whom were here last semester but many of whom are now on campus for the first time; and then there are the legitimate freshmen (welcome!). 

But I would argue that maybe there are four classes of freshmen this year, or at the very least, three classes plus me (but I think that there are probably some other seniors who feel the same way).

My route from my off-campus apartment to Gilman, where most of my classes are, has me entering campus by the tennis courts and then crossing the Freshman Quad. I pass right in front of the AMRs, where I lived just three years ago and have lots of happy memories from (to whoever is living in my old room, 255, I hope you’ll make them, too). Then on my way back from class, I sometimes feel the instinct to swipe through the turnstiles and head to the Griffin door.

It’s not just muscle memory and nostalgia that have been making me feel kind of like a freshman, though. The first week of classes felt like a whirlwind (re)introduction to the college experience that I haven’t had in over a year and a half. After almost three semesters of being mentally checked out on Zoom, in-person classes feel fun and engaging, but they’re also super exhausting. I’m thinking harder than I have in... a while — which is probably good, but also difficult, and it’s only exacerbated by being in a stuffy, windowless Gilman room where I have to strain to hear people through their masks. 

Aside from my walk to Gilman, I’ve found myself questioning what the best route is to get from point A to point B around campus — I know where things are, but I don’t remember all the ins and outs, the shortcuts, the paths that are less crowded than others when everyone’s walking between classes, especially since Mattin is no longer a throughway. And I guess I forgot how to read over summer break (that happens every year, to be honest) because, boy, did I underestimate how much time my homework would take me this past weekend. And none of these are anything crazy. They’re just things to adjust to, many of the same things that I had to adjust to my freshman year.

In some ways, though, the newness and recalibration have been a really good thing. I’m directing a play for a student theater group for pretty much the first time ever, which is something I don’t know that I would’ve done if the pandemic hadn’t come around and changed all my old habits and obligations. I might have been too stuck in what was familiar to give directing a try. 

The last time I wasn’t an editor for The News-Letter was my freshman year, and while I loved my two years as an editor, I’m excited to step back and just be a writer (and I know the paper is in good hands with this year’s team of editors). I never had that as a freshman; I was a copy reader, and I didn’t start writing until after I became an editor, so writing always kind of felt like something I did on top of my main responsibilities of being an editor. It’s nice to shift my focus.

Again, I don’t want to use my metaphorical freshman status to trivialize or make light of what the pandemic has taken away from us, nor do I want to make any freshmen, sophomores or juniors feel bad or like their experiences as Hopkins students are insufficient because they haven’t had a full in-person year yet. It’s weird to go back to normal, especially when it’s still a pretty strange and scary “normal” that we’re transitioning to. This is just the funniest and most positive angle through which I can think to look at it.

And in many ways, I do actually wish the other seniors and I were starting over as freshmen, that we had four untainted years here in front of us. I haven’t really processed that I’m a senior yet. I don’t know how to cram everything we missed out on during the pandemic into just one year or, really, how to accept that we’re not getting that time back.

But for now, one last silver lining: As I’ve been meeting new people again in my classes and clubs, this newness and adjustment that we’re all going through — no matter what year we are — has, for me, felt like an equalizer and a relief. It’s not just me. It’s not just you. We’re all a little lost.

Sophia Lola is a senior from Brooklyn, N.Y. majoring in Writing Seminars. Her column explores personal growth, whether it comes an inch or a mile at a time.

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