Students walk around campus on an early fall day

Students walk around campus on an early fall day, Oct. 10, 2021

My freshman college experience was not the one you hear about in movies or passed down between generations of families, but one rooted in a culture many had yet to experience — a pandemic.

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March of 2020, I was a senior in high school. Looking forward to senior nights for sports, prom, graduation and the notorious senior skip day, my anticipation was dashed, along with many of my peers, by a virus. This virus spread rapidly worldwide and turned many lives upside down, including my own. Instead of finishing my senior year as planned, classes were moved online. Senior nights? Gone. Prom? Gone. In-person graduation? Gone. While one could argue the remainder of the semester felt like an endless senior skip day, it could not make up for the lack of the true senior year experience every student anticipates. Because my senior year did not end the way I planned, I focused my attention on something else — the college freshman experience. 

I got to college naively thinking life would be different. Sure, students were required to wear masks and most of my classes were online, but this was the new normal. My peers and I had been adapting to our ever-changing world over the past six months. Why would college be any different? I knew I would have to take additional precautions, but a fun freshman college experience still seemed achievable. 

Unfortunately, what was once deemed typical was redefined by the pandemic. Instead of meeting everyone on the floor of my dorm before classes began, I was greeted with closed doors to mitigate the spread of the virus. Weekend explorations into Blacksburg were replaced with nights sequestered in dorms with our pods. In-person classes were replaced by long days spent hunching over laptops. And jumping to Enter Sandman at the first home football game of the season was replaced by head-bops at watch parties with a few friends. 

While my freshman college experience was not like I imagined, the newest class of Hokies may be the first class to have the same typical college experience society has always associated with their first year on campus. With a reported 94% of students vaccinated and 87% of employees vaccinated for the last school year according to the Virginia Tech vaccination dashboard, the university was able to relatively contain the spread of COVID-19. This allowed for in-person classes and eventually led to the lifting of the mask mandate in the spring semester. 

Because of these measures and the advancements in vaccinations, the normal college experience has begun to reform over the past two years. In addition, the Virginia Tech community was forced to come together once again in the face of adversity. Our community became more adaptable and unified to prevent the spread of the virus. As a result, the class of 2026, along with transfer students, have the opportunity to experience what it means to truly be a new college student unlike the few classes before. Previous classes endured a not-so-normal college experience so that these newer classes can return to normalcy. 

As of June 27, 2022, there have been approximately 20,536 COVID-19 cases reported in Montgomery County, Virginia, with a daily average of about 20 cases. While COVID-19 will most likely continue to evolve, the VT community has shown that individual accountability and prioritizing safety will always come first. Because of this, new students can look forward to in-person classes, football games and exploring downtown Blacksburg without capacity restrictions. Most importantly, new students now have the freedom to define their own college experience free from previous COVID-19 mandates — an experience full of everything Virginia Tech has been famously known to offer. 

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