June 5, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 59°F


Commentary: Surviving college life during a pandemic

Editor’s Note: This is a guest commentary. The opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.

In August 2019, the Class of 2023 moved onto campus for what we expected would be a normal four years in Ithaca. While the year started out fine, things took a turn during spring break in 2020. 

We experienced the rollercoaster of thinking we would return to campus for Fall 2020 only to have the college reverse that decision. We experienced the hybrid Spring 2021, which I actually thought was more difficult than the remote fall. Junior year for the Class of 2023 was not much better. We started with necessary mask requirements and then did away with mandatory COVID-19 testing. For us, senior year is the first full year without any sort of COVID-19 restrictions — how weird is that?

My fellow seniors’ and my college experience has been anything but ordinary. At the beginning of the pandemic, I often found myself crying over how I felt like the world had crumbled around me. Many nights were spent sitting in my childhood bedroom, that I covered in string lights to make it feel like a dorm, blasting whatever sad music I could find and just letting myself cry. Friends I had just made were scattered across the country and there was no date for when I would see them again. All of my belongings were sitting untouched in Bogart Hall waiting for the day when I would be allowed to return and get them; that day did not come until June.

I think it is incredibly easy to look back at this time with nothing but agony and heartache and it is hard to think of any good that came out of it. It is also easy to look at today’s first-year students and feel jealousy toward their “post-COVID” college years, but let’s not forget that their high school experience was also ruined.

Today, I would not recognize my first-year self. Part of that is because I was still newly 18 when I moved to Ithaca and now I’m only days away from turning 22. But I think the bigger change came from the pandemic. Being home for so long forced me to look at the people around me and learn that I needed to make sacrifices to keep those I love safe. I became more empathetic and humble. My 18-year-old self thought she knew everything, but the pandemic taught her that she did not and she should be more mindful.

I also became more sure of what I really wanted to do during the pandemic. I had only been home for a couple weeks when I decided to apply for The Ithacan’s editorial board as an assistant news editor. This was a huge step for me that would unknowingly change the course of the rest of my college career. I could have spent the next few months home simply logging onto Zoom and doing homework that was kind of a joke. Instead, I was doing the best I could to report and write stories in a completely digital and separated world. While difficult, it put my journalism career into high gear and look at where I am now — in a position that I did not envision myself in when I came to Ithaca College. 

As seniors come closer to graduation and “the real world,” I hope that seniors can look back at these four years with a more open mind. Yes, our college experience was totally non-traditional and was not at all what we predicted when we walked across the high school stage in 2019. I know that I tried my best to make the most of this twisted college experience, even if I barely remember parts of my first and sophomore years. However, we have still grown into who we are now.

I hope that some seniors can do what I have done and reflect on who they were during their first year to who they are now. College is a period of immense change and growth and discovering who we are, as cliché as that sounds, and I hope when looking back on these four years there can be some joy.

Caitlin Holtzman (she/her) is a senior, Editor-in-Chief of The Ithacan, Journalism major. Contact her at choltzman@ithaca.edu.