The Norms of College Life Are Out the Window. Now What?
My last three years at SLU have been full of laughter, goofiness, growth, love, and learning. Even though COVID-19 might make the upcoming year look very different to us, I have no doubt that these experiences will continue. Now, I know this because I know SLU and I know SLU students. We find fun everywhere. Heck, we find joy in negative 10-degree weather. But I also understand that if you don’t know SLU like the back of your hand quite yet, you may be coming into this year full of concerns and doubts.
Some of these concerns were shared by first-year student’s before you. Will I make friends? Will my roommate and I get along? Will SLU become my home? I know you’re asking yourself these questions because I was doing the same three quick years ago.
This year, there are probably more uncertainties looming over your thoughts. Will I have fun even though I’ll have to follow safety rules in order to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19? What will social life even look like? These questions are unique to your first-year experience, but I hope it will ease your mind to know that returning students are asking themselves the same things. The unknown is terrifying, but I believe this year will still be fun and full of the weird shenanigans that are particularly unique to SLU.
First, I would like to address making friends in such unusual circumstances. To put it simply, current St. Lawrence students want to be your friend. We love to laugh, socialize, and get to know each other. Since my sophomore year I have been an Orientation Leader (OL), so I know all too well the nerves new students have arriving on campus. Last year I was an OL for the transfer and exchange students. I was really nervous about this role because these students don’t have a traditional first-year experience. I knew I had to do everything I could to help them create a community without the framework of the FYP, but my nerves were unnecessary because the transfer and exchange group thrived. I watched them find their own friends and their own rhythms on campus throughout the semester.
This example gives me so much hope for the incoming first-year class. While I think Orientation itself helped the transfer and exchange group get comfortable and find their place, I mostly attribute their success to the welcoming atmosphere of the SLU community.
St. Lawrence students are so excited to share the activities they love with their new friends. I am from Kansas City, so I had never hiked a mountain before coming to SLU. My friends in the Outing Club and in the Outdoor State of Mind FYP were shocked, but they couldn’t wait to introduce me to the wonders of the outdoors. I remember slowing the whole group down on my first hike, but they truly didn’t mind because they were happy to share their love for the outdoors with me. There are people like this across campus—eager to introduce you to new experiences with music, the arts, sports, foreign languages, or different cultures.
In addition to our love for forming new friendships, the SLU community knows how to make the most our time and resources on campus. Clubs and theme houses will always have fun activities planned to keep us entertained. Even though our activities will look different, SLU students are creative—that won’t end if COVID-19 changes the norms of campus social life. I think it could make our memories even more special.
I am imagining socially distanced outdoor club meetings, runs on the Saddlemire Trail, ice skating in below freezing temperatures, or Ultimate Frisbee practices. We could make homemade masks with the Green House or take sunrise hikes up Mt. Arab with the OC. I can see students listening to music and reading good books in triangles of hammocks between trees, hosting trivia nights or painting classes over Zoom, carving locally-grown pumpkins in late autumn, or meditating with the LIGHT House—virtually and in person—after a long week of class.
In order to make the most of this year, we’ll have to acknowledge our fears of uncertainty, but also begin to embrace the new normal with joy, open-mindedness, and creativity. We will all have to expand our common understanding of the typical college experience and be excited to explore all of the new possibilities. We have to remember that our attitude will influence so much of our experience. We are going to have to look beyond our expectations and instead look for the joy. Joy exists everywhere, even during COVID-19.
The last three years taught me that time goes by faster than you could ever imagine, and situations can change so quickly. We must appreciate every moment we have together—whether we’re first years or rising seniors—because it is never quite enough time. Even though COVID-19 is going to be around for a while, you will be a part of a community that is full of love.
You’ll learn the joy of ordering a famous Sergi’s pizza role late at night, adventuring in the North Country, or enjoying a Pub smoothie on an Adirondack chair. You will meet professors that will help you every step of the way and are excited to make connections with you in person and over Zoom. You will get to know other students who are so excited that you picked SLU and can’t wait to show you the beauty that is so deeply embedded into our campus. You will be a Laurentian.