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Editorial: The responses of college freshmen bring hope
The transition from home to college is naturally fraught with anxiety. Will I like my roommate? Will I be able to manage my classes? Will I fit in on campus and with a community? These and many more questions swirl in the heads of first-year students on the threshold of adulthood.
This year, with the current surge in coronavirus cases across much of the country, students (and their parents) have even more reason for concern. Will the virus find my campus? Will we end up closing after all? Will I be able to stay safe?
In light of these concerns, and with safety at the fore, institutions of higher education have spent their summers crafting plans and making preparations. The College Special Section in this week’s issue outlines specific ways in which Catholic colleges and universities have responded, and the efforts have been remarkable in scope and scale.
From Michelle Martin’s reporting: “Universities are making double rooms in residence halls singles, or making quads and triples doubles. They are issuing masks and requiring that they be worn, and they are installing plexiglass barriers to protect students and staff where they can. They are painting footprints and pawprints and arrows on footpaths to show people where to walk, stand and wait. They are restricting visitors to campuses. They are asking students and staff to monitor and report symptoms, and in some cases, to be tested for the virus before they return to campus and while they are there.” This is all in addition to changes in schedules and virtual learning.
While these protocols are commendable, their success is largely going to depend on how seriously students, faculty and staff take their job of protecting others from the virus. This is especially true for students, who make up the greater percentage of the populations of college and university campuses, and who therefore will need to be more vigilant where precautions are concerned.
This is a lot to ask of college students, especially first-years leaving home for the first time. They have had a rough year, with so many of their “last things” and special events of high school canceled or greatly modified. They missed out on end-of-year productions and concerts, in-person celebrations and graduations. And now they are going to be asked to make even more sacrifices. Classes will be different, studying will be different, interactions will be different, recreation will be different. How they make friends and socialize will be different. In addition to adapting to a new life, they will need to commit to caring for their classmates by being attentive to rules and safety protocols.
But, as in all things, challenges become opportunities, and the challenge of being a college student in the age of COVID-19 can be an opportunity to grow in character and in understanding of personal responsibility and the capacity for charity. We are already seeing it happen.
Daniella Thomas, who will begin online classes at Loyola Marymount University, told Our Sunday Visitor that seeing the pandemic through the lens of her faith has helped her to understand that “life is not just about ourselves and the way we want to live.”
Lauren Dellett, who will begin her first year at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, told Our Sunday Visitor that she is trying to find the positive amid the difficulties. “I believe that this will definitely prepare us better for life,” she said. “And the pandemic pushes me a little more to go into medicine.”
These are the kinds of responses that bring hope.
Time and again in recent years, popes have extolled the virtues of the young. Pope St. John Paul II, who had a particular affection for youth, told them at his final World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 that “the future is in your hearts and in your hands. God is entrusting to you the task, at once difficult and uplifting, of working with him in the building of the civilization of love.”
As students head off to college this fall, those words resonate all the more. As we all face a future of unknowns, we pray for the health and safety of these young people. And we ask that God give them the grace they need to work together responsibly to bring charity and hope to the world.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young