A not-so-normal welcome back to college

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Monica Alarcon-Najarro, Contributing Writer

It was an early summer morning in 2019. I woke up in my bed back at home while boxes filled with dorm essentials and books littered my living room. It was the moment I had been waiting for the entire summer — my freshman move-in day.

An exciting new era of my life was beginning and I couldn’t wait to finally be a college student at VCU. I remember the feelings of freedom and responsibility consuming me as my family said their goodbyes like it was yesterday.

Nothing will ever compare to the feeling of being on campus and walking to class. I loved seeing classmates and friends on my way to the library, going to the gym to work out and spending time reading in Monroe Park.

This feeling was disrupted at the start of my spring semester. Classes had been moved online, COVID-19 regulations went into effect, people stayed inside and college was something that everyone dreaded thinking about. Businesses closed, recreational activities were cancelled and the social aspect of college changed drastically.

The excitement and wonder I felt as a freshman on campus faded as I returned to VCU for the 2020-21 school year, as the university navigated its first full year of education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, a new and different fall semester is upon us this year. The university has required COVID-19 vaccinations for students and faculty who attend classes either in person or remotely, excluding those who have filed for religious or health exemptions, alongside students who are in an entirely virtual degree program.

Once COVID-19 vaccinations are uploaded online, students will automatically receive a green check mark on their Entry Pass, which exempts students from filling out a daily health check. Those who are not fully vaccinated are still required to complete the daily health check in order to enter buildings such as the University Student Commons and the James Branch Cabell Library.

When it comes to classes, faculty can choose to use the Entry Pass for in-person classes but should notify students beforehand. In this case, I think this semester will be a little weird to adapt to at first, as some classes of mine will still be online while others require my attendance and compliance with safety policies.

As we haven’t had in-person classes in a year, it’ll be bittersweet to get back into the groove of campus life. Yet, the pessimistic thought that classes could go virtual again infiltrates my mind.

Though, my expectations aren’t too high. The delta variant is still out there. There is still that small, nagging chance that everything can be taken away from us again. We will still have to wear masks and abide by the regulations and policies put in place, such as masking, social distancing and hybrid/fully virtual classes.

As of Aug. 24, 2021 there have been 19,208 COVID-19 cases in Richmond City. The number of cases are starting to spike again, showing that the delta variant should be taken seriously even among the vaccinated. 

Yet, because of my expectations being ruined by the pandemic, it will undoubtedly be hard to look forward to graduating a year early this spring. All I can do is hope that graduation will be as normal as possible, but still I am accustomed to the fact that this will take time.

Even though it has taken a year out of our lives, all we can do now is be patient and stay safe. Even with regulations still in place, take whatever small ounce of normalcy you can get and find joy in it. One day we’ll go back to normal but we can be grateful for the fact that we’ve made it this far.

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