The freshman experience amidst a pandemic

Student Taylor Schutt reflects on a year of twists and turns as she learns how to navigate the pandemic and her experience as a freshman in unfamiliar territory


The atmosphere of campus was different for incoming students who navigated through different and often confusing COVID-19 regulations.

Taylor Schutt, Staff Writer

I still remember my last day of high school. I remember what I was wearing, how I felt that day and the amusement behind “the coronavirus.” Our last day of high school was Thursday, March 12, an early date imposed by our principal who took the initiative to sanitize our school. The day started rough but ended well with a win against my rival high school in my final lacrosse game. The entire school was bustling with excitement to have Friday off, because who wouldn’t be excited to have a day off? Little did we know this day would be our last day of the year.

For the next two-and-a-half months, my senior class struggled to maintain motivation while taking classes completely online. Grades were waived across the country and seniors barely got through AP exams.

When I received my acceptance letter to Wake  Forest toward the end of March, I was ecstatic, yet a part of me began to worry even more about what the future would hold. At the time, my brother was a senior at Wake Forest — also struggling to stay motivated since he felt that his final semester of college was ripped from his hands. I couldn’t help but wonder what was in store .Would all my classes be online? Would I be able to live on campus? How am I going to make friends? Will I ever get the true college experience? Will things be this way forever?

I’m grateful that my summer was incredibly fun, but that feeling was soon diminished when my time at home came to a close. When August hit, I was hoping to spend the last two weeks with my best friends and family. Like a punch to the gut, Wake Forest announced that all students had to quarantine at home for two weeks before moving in. I was happy to be living on campus, but the mandatory quarantine made my transition to college even harder.

I moved in on Aug. 17 with butterflies and bees zooming in my stomach. I couldn’t wait to make new friends and interact with strangers again. On the other hand, I was terrified by thoughts of COVID-19 restrictions, living on my own and succeeding in my classes. As a social person, I make friends quite easily, but something about living on campus during a pandemic made doing this extremely difficult. We were only allowed one guest per resident in each room, had to maintain social distancing and always wore a mask when we weren’t alone. To be honest, the guidelines were always confusing.

Everyone had to follow these rules, but most of the older students had already established friend groups and roommates. We tried to make friends safely without getting into trouble, and very quickly, freshmen began forming groups or cliques that made it difficult for those not involved to find friends. How were we supposed to socialize when nothing social was going on? The university attempted to provide a freshman orientation through socially distanced and virtual events, but it wasn’t the same. We wanted real Deacon Olympics, club and intramural sports; regular Pit dining and a true involvement fair.

I am lucky to have experienced Wake Forest before COVID-19 struck when I visited my brother, but most freshmen have not had the same privilege. Most do not know what Pit sitting is like, what the library is like during finals or what the Quad looks like when it’s rolled.

After the fall, I still held on to the hope that things would go back to normal and campus would have more in-person activities and classes. As winter break came to a close, I realized that college would not be normal in the spring, either. In January, I rushed a sorority, and that process was held completely online. Coming back to campus, I was afraid that, even though I joined a sorority, I would be unable to connect with my new sisters. When campus transitioned to Orange operating status, I lost almost all hope I had previously had held about the spring semester. I spent 10 days in isolation with COVID-19, fell behind in many of my classes, saw a decline in my mental health and felt that I would never get to meet my new sisters.

Boy, was I wrong. Over the course of my pledging, my pledge mom and older sorority sisters made it one of their primary duties to make us newbies feel welcomed. Although many events were online, my sorority opened an enormous door for me to reach out and meet new people. Through meals and coffee dates, I found my best friend and grew even closer to friends I already had.

When spring began to feel like spring, I saw a change in campus life. On warm days, everyone was outside and college felt a bit more normal. Students gathered on the Quad, at picnic tables and around the Manchester fire pits to soak up the sun. Then, the vaccines finally arrived. I received my first dose of the Moderna vaccine on March 5 and my second dose on April 5. As students, staff and faculty began getting vaccinated, Wake Forest graciously lessened restrictions and allowed for more social interactions.

Today, I feel comfortable going off campus. I feel comfortable hugging someone. I feel comfortable seeing my family. I feel confident that things will indeed return to normal. Slowly but surely, Wake Forest will return to what I once experienced it to be. We will have tailgates. We will have games. We will have in-person classes. We will have in-person philanthropy events. We will have an in-person rush. We will have Pit sits. We will have parties. We will have lots of toilet paper on the Quad. We will have graduations. And we will have good ole’ Wake Forest, the way it should be, once again.