Caleb Shenk is a first-year from the Goshen area. He’s majoring in business and minoring in Spanish. He is also a member of the men’s tennis team.

“The Class of 2020: what a cool year to graduate,” was a common refrain my classmates and I heard from teachers and parents throughout elementary and high school. We knew our graduation year would be one to remember – and in a way, we couldn’t have been any more right. 

Due to the pandemic, we missed out on many rites of passage that we had seen classes before us enjoy: the final spring sports season, senior prom, senior trip, the final chapel, walking across the stage to graduate, and perhaps most saddening, final moments with friends – some of whom we won’t see again for years. 

It was certainly a heart-wrenching end to our four-year journey, full of unfulfilled expectations and an anticlimactic close of the laptop to end high school. 

However, we figured that the virus would come to pass during the summer, and we would get a fresh start in college.

That has not been the case, to say the least. The COVID-19 pandemic is still wreaking havoc on our country, and the effects have been wide-reaching. 

As a first-year student at Goshen, it has been especially difficult to add another complication to what is already such a monumental transition. 

For example, we didn’t get to meet our class until the new student orientation on Aug. 14, since admitted students weekend as well as summer orientation, advising and registration (SOAR) were moved online. On top of that, since most people we’re meeting are strangers, it takes a lot longer to get to know people when there is less socializing, mask-obscured facial expressions and having to put names to eyes rather than faces. Along with everyone else, we’ve had to retrain our innate communal and social instincts.

While it has been harder to forge new relationships, I guess in one sense, we also don’t really know what we’re missing out on. 

To us, this has been all we’ve known of college. 

I’ve heard from returning students that mealtimes and spontaneous events in each others’ dorm rooms were great ways to meet new people and casually socialize. We’ve just had to be more intentional about scheduling times and places to meet up outside or in the connector. When we play games or do have our masks off to eat, I think we value that time more than we normally would. 

I’ve noticed a lot less phone use when we’re together, and the conversations have been fun, meaningful ways to get to know new people.

Although the pandemic has brought many changes and challenges, I’m very grateful to be at Goshen where it feels like health and safety are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Talking to some of my classmates, we are in total agreement: masked and distanced in-person learning is vastly superior to mask-free, at-home learning, and we are willing to make those minimal sacrifices to stay on campus.

I’ve been so grateful to see our college community come together to make this happen, as I have friends who complain about their colleges switching to online learning or not knowing how many cases they have on campus. 

Goshen’s commitment to a safe, transparent campus has made me feel more at home and at peace, and thanks to our culture and leadership, I’m ready to enjoy these next years of college as much as I can. 

Let it be known, 2024: The bar has been set, and expectations are high. Let’s see what it will bring.