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A Transformative Year: 2020 In Review

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Jessie, a University of Massachusetts student, sits in a car with her mother wearing face coverings and giving a thumbs up

Looking back on 2020, it’s crazy to think about all of the events that took place over the course of the year. It was a year of personal and academic growth, and truly a transformative year like no other.

Back at the beginning of 2020, I was living in the residence halls on campus and still enrolled in face-to-face classes as a first-year student at UMass Amherst. By then I already knew my first year at the University of Massachusetts was filled with priceless memories and new experiences.

I still remember my first visit to campus as a high school sophomore. I was amazed at how large the campus was and the excitement I felt when I thought about finally getting to join the campus as a college student. Fast forward to the spring of my senior year of high school. After months of pouring over college applications and touring schools I realized that the first school was the right one all along. I put down my deposit to UMass just over a week before the May 1st deadline, and finally the decision had been made.

It wasn’t until I stepped foot on campus for orientation that the reality began to sink in. Orientation gave me a small glimpse into what would be my home for the next four years. During orientation I met one of my closest college friends to this day, and learned just how amazing UMass Dining really is.

I unknowingly met another one of my best friends while watching Bachelor in Paradise down in the lounge one night. After an awkward introduction and some painful small talk, I thought I’d never speak to them again. It wouldn’t be until a few weeks later, after staying up together waiting until 3 am for Insomnia Cookies, which never arrived by the way, that our friendship would really start to take off. Who would’ve thought that a failed cookie delivery would give us the time we needed to bond? Sometimes the best friendships are the most unexpected ones.

By the start of second semester I’d developed a comfortable routine: I attended large 200-person classes, and in my free time I went to the rec center, had long lunches in the dining halls with my friends, and joined a handful of clubs. Community involvement is really important to me, and my involvement with RSOs at UMass helped me balance my school work with my social life.

When COVID-19 hit in mid-March and we were first notified of our “extended” Spring Break, I didn’t realize just how different my way of living would become.

As someone who hates feeling out of control of their circumstances, the pandemic has taught me a lot about dealing with uncertainty and the unknown. The early stages of the pandemic felt like the start to some zombie apocalypse movie as the panic buying started, everything shut down, and hospitals became overwhelmed. Even now, there’s a lot of unknowns and sometimes that can be really scary! Instead of focusing on things out of my control, I’ve been trying to lower my expectations and roll with the punches. 

From an academic standpoint, switching to remote learning was undoubtedly hard for both students and faculty — with the new technology, conflicting time zones, personal life, and everything in between. I found keeping track of my coursework to be the hardest part about the spring semester, as all assignments were online — and there were a lot of deadlines to remember. Despite these major adjustments, I am thankful that all of my professors were super accommodating, and felt like we all understood how unprecedented these times are.

My personal life became pretty uneventful for the first few months of the pandemic — a few major travel plans had to be postponed, and I missed seeing all of my friends and family in person. Instead we were keeping in touch over facetime and zoom. After the spring semester ended, I took advantage of New England’s warmer months — spending the majority of my time doing outdoor activities with a small group of friends and family.

The fall semester showed me endurance and patience. Knowing I would be taking a full load of online classes was daunting, and I missed seeing my friends and the liveliness of campus. Despite these negative emotions, I worked to make the best of the situation — attending zoom club meetings, facetiming my friends regularly, spending quality time with my family, while focusing on my academics. By setting a routine for myself, this helped me be more productive throughout the day. Some of my favorite free time activities included taking walks with my mom, facetiming with my friends, and exercising. 

During this time, I began to accept the term “a new normal”, working to adapt my ways of living to fit around this model. Some highlights of my remote semester included accepting a summer internship offer obtained through the virtual Isenberg Career Fair and being inducted into th UMass chapter of the Eta Sigma Delta Honors Society for students like me in the hospitality and tourism management major

There’s a quote that I vividly remember the UMass Amherst tour guide telling me back when I first visited UMass: she said she chose to come to a big school because she wanted a place she could “grow in to, not out of”. Little did she know, this was a quote that would resonate with me to this day. While times may be undeniably different than they were when I first heard that quote as a high school student, I've continued growing into UMass Amherst through a lot of valuable lessons this year. I learned not to take moments for granted, and I’m choosing instead to focus on all that I’ve accomplished in the face of adversity: learning to appreciate those close to me, as well as learning to take time for myself.  

Topic: 

Life at UMass

Other Posts by this Author

Letter to my Past Self

Photo of Jessie wearing a University of Massachusetts tshirt and text reading: Dear High School Self, Don't Stress too much ultimately you'll end up loving where you go, and it'll work out in the end. I know change can be really scary but it'll be a lot easier than you think!

Right now you’re busy with preparing for the next step in your life: filling out scholarship applications, revisiting your top schools, watching videos on how to prepare for college, and deciding on where to spend your next four years. Take a deep breath, try not to stress too much, because I’m here to assure you everything is going to work out. 

You’re probably really stressed right now about the college decision process, as you don’t want to make the “wrong” choice. Ultimately you’ll end up loving where you go, and it’ll work out in the end. I know change can be really scary but it’ll be a lot easier than you think!