On Dec. 19, 2019, I got accepted into my dream school. I had spent the past two years visiting my sister at the University of Michigan, tagging along to parties, the dining hall, hockey games — you name it. There’s no way to express my excitement to live out freshman year the way my sister had described it. My chest exploded with an indescribable feeling just thinking about it.
And then, as we all can guess, that excitement diminished as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed.
I learned that all but one of my classes would be online. Despite the sad news, I was still optimistic going into freshman year that the number of cases would go down, and maybe I’d be able to get a taste of that freshman experience I had been looking forward to.
Next thing I knew, restrictions were put in place, such as not being allowed to go to other dorms, no more than three people per dorm room and so on and so forth. Eventually, any hope for a normal year started to shrink, too.
But as my first year comes to a close, I find myself having conversations with my sister — who will be entering her final year of college this coming fall semester — about her college memories. And they got me thinking about my freshman ones.
I thought about how I kept my door open for the first half of fall semester, allowing me to make my first friend on campus: my next-door neighbor, Cece. She stood in the hallway, mask on, hands waving. She introduced herself and invited me to come join her for dinner with her roommate Molly as well as her friend Miriam from high school, who lived across the hall.
I thought about how I ate dinner the night before the first day of classes with someone I was introduced to through a mutual friend: Claire. She brought her roommate Catherine along, and our friendship grew to the point where we’re now living together next year.
I thought about how the friendship between Miriam and me took off. We’d study Spanish in my room and eat breakfast together every morning before going to class. It became a routine for us to eat almost every meal together and to take study breaks by going on walks at 10 p.m. around our dorm or to State Street. Even though we’re both back home for this semester, she and I still keep in touch every day.
I thought about how a girl in my Spanish class, Zafirah, became one of my most trusted friends at school. I befriended her after she showed up on my “For You” page on TikTok, and now we talk on a near-daily basis about anything and everything.
I thought about how I made friends through a screen. Instead of spending time going out like I would have if this had been a normal year, I spent my evenings getting to know other students through cultural organizations, playing “Among Us” or other random website games on Zoom.
I thought about taking walks to the Arb, making popcorn for Friday movie nights, studying in the computer lab with a group of friends, getting freshly-baked Insomnia Cookies at 11 p.m., spending time with my sister at her house, getting apple cider from Trader Joe’s, thrifting, attending Zoom study sessions, exploring Ann Arbor and so, so, so much more.
So when I reflect on my freshman year, I can’t remember many bad experiences. I’m extremely grateful that an altered school format was the worst consequence of COVID-19 for me. Despite the changed school format and less frequent interactions with people than compared to a regular year, thinking about all these memories makes me realize that I spent every day developing relationships that have blossomed into what they are now.
While I’ll never be able to tell my kids any stories about frat parties from my freshman year, I’ll be able to tell them about the memories that actually matter. I can tell my kids about how I learned a lot from the people I met, as cheesy as it sounds — Miriam showed me why having a good sleep schedule is really beneficial, Zafirah taught me how she styles her curtain bangs, and Claire and Catherine made me not feel so bad for having a big appetite. I can tell them about how the memories I have of freshman year are ones of laughter. But most importantly, I can tell them about forging these unlikely friendships, which is my freshman year’s true silver lining.
MiC Columnist Hannah Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.