Dear NDA’s Class of 2021. . .

Sam Van Straten, Guest Writer, Class of 2020

Dear Notre Dame Academy’s Class of 2021,

You are warriors! Some may say my Class of 2020 lost out on more without prom, graduation, and proper good-byes to teachers and classmates, as well as starting college six months into a pandemic. However, in my opinion, the high school graduating Class of 2021 are the true warriors. You have endured a global epidemic since March of 2020, essentially missing the last half of your high school experience: school-sponsored junior and senior proms, spring concerts, summer hangouts, the Fallfest dance, Friday Night Lights, sweetheart-switch dance, and reduced, delayed or cancelled sports participation, activities, and interests valuable to your high school experience. But while you may be tired of being warriors and will never replace what has been lost during high school, do not defer college nor let the fears and disappointments from COVID-19 take away from your excitement of your college experience this Fall. 

I joined the Class of 2024 at the University of Notre Dame in the heat of COVID-19, and I am personally grateful I did not defer for a year. Yes, life behind a fabric strip was hardly a way to make or take a first impression; yet, plenty of fun was still had. While many of the aspects that make my college choice unique including dorm traditions and rivalries, formal dances, quarter hotdogs, and even milkshake masses, have taken a backseat to the virus, my college, along with many other college campuses, worked hard to still offer a good experience to students. Specifically at Notre Dame, many, but not all, classes have remained in-person, and clubs have been able to operate on some level.

The pandemic even forced me to find a new outlet away from the mask: working out. I have joined the Triathlon Club and picked up a new hobby that allows me to get outside and away from my dorm room and the socially-distanced crowds. I often wonder if I would have made this choice “but for” the pandemic. This past year, we survived contact tracing, surveillance testing, threat of or actual quarantine, reduced dining hall options, and, in some cases, the actual virus. But the cool thing is, we did it together as a freshman class, and we found interesting classes, deep friendships, humor, and joy together along the way.

You have been hearing horror stories on social media and from others in college, stuck in dorm rooms or home bedrooms in front of endless Zoom screens. It is true some colleges did not have any in-person classes, and I do recognize the fatigue of Zoom is downright depressing. Many of you have had the same Zoom experience for some or all of the pandemic as well. As a matter of fact, the COVID-19-related depression felt by some high school and college students right now is very real. Experiences vary campus-to-campus, depending on the size and location of schools. However, for many of us, with almost our first year of college under our belts, life became what we made of it. I have spoken to numerous high school classmates who feel the same way. While the experience was different than what we would have imagined two years ago, we still would not trade our experiences on a college campus this past year. As a matter of fact, in the last two weeks, the situation is getting even better. Things are opening up on my campus, and restrictions are being eased as more students receive the vaccine. At Notre Dame, over 90% of the student body should be fully vaccinated by the end of this spring term, and the vaccine will be required for the fall semester. 

This is promising news for the Class of 2025; if you are concerned about your college experience because of COVID-19 and/or have planned on deferring college plans for a year, please reconsider. I recognize your first introduction to your selected college, its admitted student days, were handled via Zoom. Yes, even with a vaccine, the risks and effects of COVID-19 may still be felt this coming school year. You may even wear masks some or all of the time in classrooms, on campus, or in the town around you, but you will still enjoy life as a college freshman. COVID-19 has not stripped away the experiences of making new friends, surviving tough but interesting classes together, dorm life, or even “adulting” by experiencing independence away from home and the responsibility of your dirty laundry pile. So, as you are finishing these final days as a high school senior and celebrating your graduation in whatever form it may take, please remember what a warrior you have become; just hold onto your horse and choose to gallop into your freshman year of college this August. I promise you: you will still be in for a great ride!

Sam Van Straten ’20