Youngest Alumni Navigate College in the Time of COVID

Jesuit Magazine Winter 20/21

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, universities across America were forced to shift their plans, leaving newly minted college freshmen with a decision about their futures.

After their final semester at Jesuit High School Sacramento was altered, the Class of 2020 had hoped to find normalcy in a new school year, but in a year of unpredictability, varying factors had to be taken into consideration with the announcement that classes were to be moved online.

While some are staying home, others have journeyed to their school. Caelin Sutch ’20 and Aiden Baker ’20 are both attending UC Berkeley, taking online classes from different locations in the city. 

“I’m living off campus in Berkeley in a house with 10 other guys,” Caelin said. “UC Berkeley is likely going to be virtual next semester, which really stinks, but thankfully I’ve been able to adapt and I’m pretty satisfied how my year has turned out so far.”

Part of what makes college special is being in the college environment. Aiden, who is living in the campus dorms, describes how college life has been active while maintaining COVID-19 safety protocols. 

“There are always people out doing something—whether it is running, playing Frisbee and trampling an unsuspected civilian in the Library courtyard, or getting a bite to eat with friends, there’s something anyone can find to do,” Aiden said. “Or you can just stay in your room and do nothing all day. It’s really up to the individual.”

Some colleges allowed their students the choice of taking a gap year instead of virtual learning this fall. Salutatorian Jonathan Fong ’20, who plans on attending Fordham University, chose to defer for the fall semester, but anticipates waiting a year. Jonathan details how this choice has affected the normal transition to college.

“The pandemic has affected the transition process, as now I am stuck in this awkward position of not being a high schooler, but also not being a college student,” Jonathan said. “It feels as though I am stuck in time; however, I am not willing to sacrifice the quality of education that I would be receiving, so I have decided it is worth it to just stick out this year and hope for some sort of normalcy in the fall of 2021.”

The same decision was faced by Donghwan Park ’20, the valedictorian, who ultimately chose to take classes from home.

“When Stanford ruled out on-campus for most students, I considered taking a gap year but I decided to just take online classes,” Donghwan said. “I’m not too bummed about staying home for fall quarter, but I hope I get to be on campus by winter or spring quarter.”

Along with academics, athletics have also been interrupted due to COVID-19, leaving student-athletes with different training experiences amid hopes and doubts about a new season.

“No one is sure whether we’ll have a season this year and I’ll be training from home,” Donghwan said on the prospect of competing in fencing. 

“I planned on walking onto the track team,” Aiden said. “However, due to COVID-19 regulations, I, as well as all other prospective walk-ons who would be trying out in the coming month, will have to wait to an estimated January [start]. “I’ve been practicing with the freshmen who signed last year and we’ve been going to a local high school that is luckily open with a track.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the usual transition from high school to college, students have had to adjust their plans and expectations to the new normal, sharing in their hope for safe return to in-person classes and the resumption of sports in 2021.