Reflecting On Pandemic-Era GustavusWhen Covid came to the Hill, it upended the college experience for all Gusties. But its life lessons still endure.
Posted on March 14th, 2024 by

No one misses this. A socially distanced classroom during the Covid pandemic.

Four years ago this week, Gustavus (and the world) started shutting down. A current senior recalls the surreal circumstances of starting college amid the crisis.

When I and the class of 2024 first arrived at Gustavus in August, 2020, we went through something more complicated than the classically intimidating transition from high school.

Being a first-semester freshman is already difficult. You’re used to your high school friends, and you’re willing, if still a little shy or reluctant, to try anything to branch out. (This is why the Campus Activities Board exists. Give them a look if you have time.)

But to top it off, when our class arrived on campus, the Coronavirus pandemic was alive and (un)well. Normal events that could’ve bonded us were shuttered in favor of safer virtual options. (Keep in mind that this was pre-vaccine, and we didn’t yet know how dangerous—or not— the virus was to young people.) Greeter groups were smaller, and they petered out as the semester went on. It didn’t help that many of our classes were online, snatching away opportunities to meet like-minded people—y’know, like college students are supposed to, at least according to all the movies and books.

I remember feeling like I was missing that outlet for connection that first-years normally get. To be fair, some of this could have been down to my normal introverted habits; I’m used to doing a lot of things by myself. But I went through a period when I questioned if I was ever going to find those connections.

Luckily, I wasn’t alone. Most first-year students during that 2020-21 period endured a similarly unceremonious start to college.

One of my friends was among the lonely and didn’t have very many social connections back then. While she was able to move into a comfortable residence hall room and develop a select few intimate friendships, she also missed out on many of the experiences that constitute “normal college life.”

Many of my other friends recalled sharing this sentiment. One remarked that the lack of social interaction affected her grades, since her work ethic was down. For a lot of us, myself included, watching your friends study can be a natural motivator. When this isn’t an option because everything is online, self-motivation suddenly becomes the name of the game.  

Yet another friend talked about how much he had been looking forward to college. When Covid suddenly hit, and no one could socialize normally, he found himself one click away from transferring. He simply didn’t feel as though he was connecting with his peers—irrespective of whether this would be any different at another college. (Plus…St. Thomas? That place is expensive. Yeesh.) 

Hopefully you notice an enduring theme: Socialization is important, whether on campus or elsewhere. Humans are hardwired for connection. Couple this with the proximity at which young adults, burgeoning with desire to fully experience the world, are packed together, literally and figuratively, in a tight-knit community, and you crave an even deeper desire to forge those friendships and connections.

Rehearsals for Christmas in Christ Chapel, which was virtual only in 2020.

So, to anyone struggling with the college transition, or in need of broader and deeper socialization, here are some tips from those of us who experienced that transitional period in one of the weirdest and most limited ways possible:

  • See what’s out there! Check out our many social media channels, the weekly Inside Gustavus newsletter, or event posters in the Jackson Campus Center. You might discover something that you didn’t know was happening. You’re also guaranteed to meet people.
  • Check out the events that are advertised on the main Gustavus website. These are where lectures, art or science exhibits, and even more fun events are broadcast to the entire student body. 
  • Don’t be afraid to get some friends together from shared classes and departments! I have downed many a lunch with my cello section in GSO, as well as with other fellow English majors. You can go to the Market Place, relax in the library, or utilize the increasing number of amenities and activities the town of Saint Peter has to offer. (And do not shy away from the always mind-blowing Arboretum.)

So, Gusties, as we put the pandemic fully in the rear-view mirror, take it from a classmate who started college when Covid was still COVID!!! (Just the memory of it makes me want to cry and drown my sorrows in Chipotle.) Stay social. Take risks. And most importantly, foster and use your connections. It will help you become a better Gustie, and a better human being. 


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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