Bhardwaj: Wildcat Welcome was a chaotic return to campus

Divya Bhardwaj, Op-Ed Contributor


When I stood in the corner of my brother’s Elder Hall double at age 12, trying not to disrupt the chaotic unpacking process, I never thought six years later I would be moving into my own dorm room as a freshman at Northwestern. And I certainly could have never imagined that coming here would entail being regularly tested for exposure to a deadly virus, wearing a medical face mask at all times and feeling grateful that I’m even able to be on campus. 

Though the college admissions process has always been unpredictable, its uncertainty took on a new meaning when the high school class of 2021 applied to universities at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t just college admissions offices affecting our fates, but a deadly disease as well. Instead of just worrying about where we would continue our education, we agonized over whether we could attend college in-person at all. We witnessed the plights of our friends a year older than us, suffering through Zoom University or endless restrictions, and wondered if we would face the same outcome. My own applications were due in either November 2020 or January 2021, when rates of infection, hospitalization and death peaked across the country and abroad. 

By spring, however, the situation seemed to have greatly improved. After getting vaccinated, being free to meet up with friends and attending my in-person graduation, I was optimistic that the safety measures needed to maintain the community’s public health would become less strict by September. As nearly all of our chosen universities announced a fully in-person return for this fall, my friends and I spent the summer excitedly planning for the start of our college careers. I couldn’t wait to be on campus as a Wildcat, not just tagging along as a bored younger sibling. When I finally arrived here, it truly felt different than any time in the past — it was like coming home. 

After having limited social contact for the past 18 months, I was even more enthusiastic about getting to know my peers and exploring the city than the typical college freshman. So even though nobody could see or hear anything during the speeches after March Through the Arch, coordinators ran out of food at Lunch on the Lakefill and some of the buses to Six Flags didn’t arrive until nearly midnight, at least we had the opportunity to experience these events. Even if our Wildcat Welcome was rather chaotic at times, it was infinitely better than having to suffer through awkward Zoom icebreakers (sorry, class of 2024). Due to COVID-19, I don’t take any in-person event for granted, and things I once would have endlessly complained about are minor afterthoughts. 

Despite the madness, Wildcat Welcome set the stage for an enthusiastic return to campus. After spending much of my junior and senior year of high school alone in my bedroom, being unable to attend any in-person event for months on end, and weathering a brutal college admissions cycle, it would be almost laughable for me to complain about a few mishaps during our orientation events. More than anything else, I am happy to be here. In spite of the complete disorder of the past year and a half, we freshmen are finally here, and we’re more than ready to take advantage of what NU has to offer. Class of 2025, we made it. 

Divya Bhardwaj is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.