Student Life

Reflections from the COVID class

A bulk of the undergrads who will walk the graduation stage this year spent their entire first year of university online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Heading toward graduation myself, I can’t help but reflect upon the odd university experience that I and many other students who started in the fall of 2020 endured. 

Residences were open for those who came to Montreal, but many stayed home for the whole year. Provincial and university restrictions hindered typical first-year experiences: Frosh was virtual, dining halls had limited capacity, and for much of the school year, Montreal was under an 8 p.m. curfew

I spent my first year at home in Washington, D.C., and at first felt I had missed out on many formative experiences. I often wonder if this loss has significant effects on how fellow COVID first years view their university experience as a whole. 

Emma Chothani, U4 Science, spent her first semester at home in Pittsburgh before moving into Campus1 for the Winter 2021 semester. Chothani feels that while COVID first years missed the crazy phase that many experience when they first arrive at university, this wasn’t necessarily such a loss, as students in residence ended up creating close bonds.

Aixa Lacroix, U4 Management, also came to Campus1 during the winter. Lacroix came to cherish any chances to connect with peers in person, even if it was just sharing a meal with a friend. 

“University is what you make of it, so it’s better to take advantage of what you do have,” Lacroix said.

And take advantage we did. 

In some ways, though, COVID opened doors and encouraged first-years to delve into new opportunities and friendships.

I feel like we learned to connect with people digitally in a way that we had never had to before,” LaCroix reflected.

Harry Boutemy, U4 Science, spent his whole first year at Royal Victoria College and met one of his best friends at online Science Frosh. 

YoYo Peng, U4 Science, stayed in China during her first year. She joined the Computer Science First Year Council, which ended up being one of the best decisions she made during first year, as it helped her jump straight into the McGill community when she arrived in Montreal.

“I really wanted to join some sort of club or something,” Peng said. “Otherwise I’d just be another username on the screen.” 

I recall joining The World University Service of Canada Local Committee (WUSC) McGill. Not only did WUSC connect me to the McGill community, but it gave me a sense of purpose during my first year. Helping coordinate the arrival of Student Refugee Program students in Montreal was rewarding because it allowed me to feel like I was contributing to the McGill community even though I wasn’t in Montreal. 

It’s been hard at times.

Despite this remarkable digital adaptability, the loss of that normal first year did have impacts on the subsequent years. 

“I do feel like the graduating class of 2024 is less connected in some ways,” Arezo Farah, U4 Arts, said, having spent her first year at home in Vaughan, Ontario. 

I personally recall arriving in Montreal for the Fall 2021 semester after having been a student for a whole year and feeling on par with the 2021 freshman in terms of McGill experiences. Even for students who were in Montreal their first year, residence life during COVID was isolating and even depressing at times—especially when there was a lot of time to fill with little to fill it with.

But it works out in the end.

Everyone I interviewed felt satisfied with, or at least accepting of, their relatively truncated university experience as they head toward graduation.

“I’m leaving university with a ton of friends and great experiences,” Lacroix said. “I almost feel like if you just focus on what could’ve been, you’re not taking full responsibility for your experiences, because ultimately it is your life, and you can shape it.” 

Take this fourth-year wisdom as a lesson. Appreciate what you do have and dwell not on opportunities lost. Rather, make these years your own, and you too will leave these gates feeling just as fulfilled as us.

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