Every year, a college class is sent off into the real world with well wishes and words of encouragement. The hope is that after four years of hard work and fun, they are equipped for success and well-prepared to take on whatever may meet them.
Time is of the essence. Most college students look forward to that golden senior year.
For years, they are told stories about how senior year is bittersweet. It might be the most stressful year, but it is also the year meant to be filled with the best memories.
For the Class of 2021, things have been different; one may call them “The Class of COVID.”
At Saint Peter’s, they were a historic class ‒ the first in the university’s nearly 150 year history to experience their senior year completely online.
So what did these seniors think?
For some, the year was a hot mess and not what they expected at all.
There were feelings of regret. Accounting and psychology major Zaheerah Ahmad told us, “I’m so sad we don’t get to enjoy any senior activities.”
Some seniors expressed feelings of regret coupled with nostalgia as they mourned the loss of socialization on campus.
“I feel as though I wasted my last year stuck in my chair most of the day, missing the mundane nature of seeing my friends everyday,” said Lamuel Pierre-Charles, a communications major.
Pierre-Charles reminisced about bittersweet memories of days when he was able to enjoy seeing people in classes.
“The discussion and tomfoolery that existed between me and the people I knew [in] class — that was one of the best experiences in the classroom,” said Pierre-Charles. “To go out and just exist with random [people], either in a public area, a classroom or some other place, would be great.”
Pierre-Charles felt the impact of social isolation with particular poignancy: because he lives in Boston, the physical distance between him and his peers makes the separation feel even greater. He also mentioned the difficulty of online classes as well as family stress at home.
“Missing the physicality and general existence of people around me that [aren’t] related to me is a hardship people shouldn’t be allowed to go through,” said Pierre-Charles. “That relief of not being suffocated by people you share [your] blood with is something I know a lot of people are in need of this very moment.”
Other seniors echoed Pierre-Charles’ sentiments about online learning, and many agreed that the spring semester has been the worst of all.
Sports management major and Spanish and journalism double minor Natasha Solano explained why she feels this way. “I’m trying to balance an insanely hectic work schedule with tons of assignments while also trying to maintain my own mental health and physical health,” she said
Both online learning and the pandemic itself have greatly affected the mental health of seniors. Some have decided to seek treatment at Saint Peter’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
CAPS revealed they have received more requests for appointments during the 2020-2021 school year than ever before. According to their records, 32 percent of the students who have sought help are seniors.
The most common issues that motivated students to seek counseling during this academic year were anxiety, depression, relationship issues and adjustment issues.
Common issues brought up during sessions were feelings of loneliness and isolation, decreased motivation and fear/anxiety. In addition, there were challenges in students’ adjustment to online learning due to it not matching their natural learning style.
Graphic arts major Angelica Jacobs sought counseling in CAPS due to being unable to find a therapist outside the university but did not feel that they gained any improvement.
“Honestly, I’ve been there 5 times, and I just feel like they don’t understand or listen,” they said.
CAPS acknowledges that a counseling style of mental health treatment may not be for everyone due to its short-term focus and that optimal treatment methods differ from client to client based on individual circumstances.
“We recognize that students have different needs, different comfort levels and different ways of communicating with others,” said Colleen Szefinski, director of CAPS. “Not every approach will work, but a students’ wellness is worth the time and effort to explore and try something different.”
Szefinski also mentioned that CAPS has received positive feedback regularly from students.
“Many show appreciation and gratitude for their counseling experience,” Szefinski said. “What we do, however, is remind them that they did the work, and we appreciate the trust they put in us to be there in their journey.”
Despite their negative experience, Jacobs does not discourage other students from contacting CAPS for help, but they did eventually find a therapist outside of campus for treatment.
Many seniors also agreed that they could not wait for the year to be over. They felt exhausted and tired of staring at a screen all day.
For these seniors, the year taught them valuable lessons that they seek to live by upon graduation. Some, like Gabriella Rico, have said that they will be taking a gap year before graduate school because of a much-needed break.
According to Rico, “this whole pandemic has been so emotionally and mentally draining for everyone, especially when you’re supposed to be enjoying your now non-existent college experience. I’ve never been looking forward to graduation more than I am now, not just because it’s so close but because I don’t know how much longer I can do this for.”
Other seniors pointed out lessons that they believe Saint Peter’s could learn.
“Some students were faced with the loss of family and friends, housing instability, as well as having to carry a larger amount of responsibilities due to being home,” said Brandon Franco, a marketing management major. “I would say that a majority of us are mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted, and I [believe] that some professors [haven’t] taken that into account.”
Coupled with these lessons is an uncertainty and anxiety about the future.
“I’m also trying to figure out what the next step of my life is going to be and where that’s going to take me,” said Solano.
Despite the hardships many have experienced during online learning, there are some seniors who see the silver lining. They were able to find optimism and enjoyment during an uncertain year.
History major Jacob Adelhoch emphatically exclaimed, “I was actually more involved in extracurriculars! I was able to balance being President of the History Club and be an active participant in Model United Nations.”
Beyond being able to take part in extracurricular activities he previously could not, Adelhoch found many advantages and a convenience to asynchronous learning. He pointed out that because everything was remote his senior year, he did not have to be everywhere at once.
When it came to academics, Adelhoch explained that “as an honors student, I had to work on my [senior] thesis, and with just a keyboard and screen, I was able to access all my responsibilities entirely online.”
Double majors in finance and economics Leandis Cedeno and Kimberly Jakharia have enjoyed the flexibility that they say has allowed them to explore various opportunities in their fields.
Cedeno explained that even though senior year was completely different from how she imagined it would be, she had a very productive year and even managed to begin her Master of Science in Finance. She said that although “it would have been much better to have been physically at SPU, I made sure to make the best of it at home; my senior year only comes by once.”
Jakharia said that she thinks it is uncommon to enjoy virtual learning, but she preferred it because of the “flexibility, and it was actually easier for me. I think not being on campus and being home actually made me a happier and more positive person. I’m not sure what my future is or what it will be, but I shall appreciate the journey of it all.”
Jakharia will continue to pursue a Master of Business Administration at Saint Peter's. Meanwhile, in addition to pursuing a Master of Science in Finance, Cedeno will also soon be starting a full-time position at UBS.
Similarly, Melissa Quintana feels that her biology major and sociology minor have helped her tremendously. Quintana will be continuing her education at Hunter College to pursue a career in physical therapy.
“My professors have given me so much knowledge that I believe I’m ready to conquer what’s next,” she said.
In the end, a major relief for seniors, regardless of major or academic discipline, is that they have survived both online learning and the rest of their college experience.
They are proud of themselves for managing life during a global pandemic after being pushed to their physical, emotional and mental extremes, and they are especially proud of all the work they have put into making their goals a reality.