Stuck at home: Recent ETHS graduates reflect on starting college remotely

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Illustration by Catherine Buchaniec

A student is studying at home. Many ETHS graduates were not able to physically attend their first year at college, and instead started school virtually.

Hank Yang, Reporter

Township High School Class of 2020 are starting college the same way they ended high school: online and from their childhood bedrooms.

Many universities decided against allowing freshmen to come to campus in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Some recent ETHS graduates said they’re lamenting their first-year experience, while others are adapting to find novelty in their hometown.

Ulo Freitas, a freshman at Stanford University studying mechanical engineering, was born and raised in Evanston. Instead of moving to California this fall, he found himself at home, attending class online. Freitas said he was disappointed that he couldn’t experience on-campus life.

“I love Evanston,” Freitas said. “I have many amazing memories here. But I was really excited to branch out and explore, especially since I haven’t really been west of Illinois.”

Elizabeth Swanson, another 2020 ETHS graduate, is virtually attending Loyola University Chicago.

Swanson said she anticipated the switch to a virtual fall semester, so she wasn’t too upset by the news.

“After this whole year, nothing surprises me anymore,” she said.“I’ve just kind of been expecting the worst.”

Rosie Underberg, a freshman at Barnard College, learned her school was closing to all undergraduate students only two days before she was scheduled to move in.

Instead of unpacking, she chose to move out of her home and rent an Evanston apartment with her friend.

“We wanted to be able to go to a different space, so that we’re not in the same spot,” Underberg said. “So I’m not in my childhood bedroom trying to do college, where I’ve been for my entire life.”

For these students and many others, their universities are attempting to recreate the freshman experience for them virtually.

At Stanford, Freitas said a computer science group created a Club Penguin-type game named Club Cardinal, where players can control their avatars and travel around a virtual campus to meet new friends.

“There’s been different events that I’ve seen, and it’s all coded and run so that in every location you have a Zoom room,” Freitas said. “But I haven’t been on there for a while now.”

Meanwhile, Loyola students can join three different types of Zoom rooms to meet and interact with peers: quiet study rooms, game rooms and TV rooms. Swanson said she frequents the quiet study room, but with everyone on mute doing their homework, “it is the most awkward thing ever.”

While her university is making its best effort, Underberg said a virtual freshman experience could never stack up to in-person college.

“I think you form better connections definitely when you’re in person, whether it’s with your professors or your peers,” Underberg said. “I feel like the best way to make friends is through side conversations like in classes, and you can’t do that on Zoom.”

Now, the ETHS graduates stuck at home are stuck in limbo waiting for their schools to announce their plans for the next academic term. Stanford, Freitas said, announced tentative plans to bring underclassmen back to campus for its Winter Quarter, but nothing is set in stone.

Freitas said he’s been strictly following Evanston’s social distancing guidelines since March and hopes others can be more conscious so he can eventually depart for school.

“Thinking in the grand scheme of things, (staying home is) better for safety reasons, of course,” Freitas said. “I’m optimistic looking forward.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @hankyang22

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