Lean On Me (Virtually): How the Class of 2024 is Staying Connected During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Photo by Becky Kirkland

Staying connected during a global pandemic is difficult. Whether you succumb to the temptation of isolating yourself with some blankets, a comfy couch, and Netflix or ignoring your phone for hours at a time in pursuit of a new hobby, you, like me and so many others, have likely brought “social distancing” to a whole new level. You’re no longer simply physically distancing. You feel the weight of emotional detachment as well. Maybe you’ve likely felt yourself dissociating from some of your peers; perhaps your relationships with those whom you consider to be your closest friends are struggling as well. Well, you’re not alone.

It is simply impractical to maintain relationships right now to the same extent that we have in the past. And that is perfectly normal. As human beings, we crave person-to-person contact. We desire affection in the form of hugs, pats on the back, and handshakes for a job well-done. We aspire to have long conversations with one another—not over the phone or Zoom, but in-person, in order to offer a shoulder to cry on or a person to lean on. With the intensity of the pandemic seemingly getting stronger (especially on college campuses), creating new relationships with people and strengthening pre-existing ones seems like an impossible feat. But I have faith.

Park Prom
The Class of 2024 organized “Park Prom” in April 2020.

Over the summer, after a formal meeting for the Class of 2024 hosted by Eva Feucht ’02, I initiated recurring Zoom meetings for my peers as a way for us to get to know each other. At that point, we did not know if we were ever going to be on campus during the fall, so I hoped that the video calls would give us the opportunity to connect even if very few of us had met in-person before. Ultimately, these Zoom calls became a weekly tradition over the summer. As we connected with more and more of our Park class via social media, the Zoom calls grew to 30 people at times. Everyone seemed to bond so well that when we finally made it to NC State in August, our relationships felt natural. I know that I personally felt like I had known my cohort for years. And now I wouldn’t trade my summer experience, albeit an online one, for anything else.

My Park Scholarships class entered our freshman year with so many unprecedented obstacles. The first semester of our freshman year was bound to be nothing if not messy. In fact, within the first month on campus, we experienced an earthquake, we mourned the loss of civil rights activist John Lewis, and, of course, we attempted to dodge the rise in positive COVID-19 cases that inevitably came with new student life on campus. But we faced every challenge and we tried to make the best of it. Because of our experience over the summer and on campus this fall, I have no doubt that, moving forward, we will have the same determination and confidence when confronting new hurdles.

Class of 2024 Freshman Retreat

On Wednesday, Aug. 26, we were informed that campus housing would be severely reduced. It is an understatement to say that we were disappointed to know that we would have to leave our new family so soon. But a few of our peers reminded us that we all initially met on Zoom and that we were all going to be okay—that the next time we were able to see each other again, we’d be stronger than ever.

I asked my Park peers in the Class of 2024 what they were planning to do in order to stay connected with everyone for the remainder of this semester. Here’s what they said:

Paige Seibert ’24 noted that her “closest Park friends and I have planned weekly Facetimes for mental health check-ins. It’s very hard being from out-of-state and knowing that I won’t see most of these people until (likely) next year, but…one thing we’ve been doing that’s really helpful is brainstorming trips that we can take as soon as it’s safe again. This gives us something to look forward to and helps us remember that we still have three more years together!” 

Anna Hill ’24 shared that “staying in touch with [fellow Park Scholars] is so important to me because they are the people who understand me the best, the people who are there cheering me on at my greatest accomplishments, and the people there to pick me up at my lowest points. My Park family are the people I can go to for anything without the fear of judgement… Some things I look forward to are getting together with the people staying in the Raleigh area with socially distanced picnics and having movie nights over Zoom with the people who aren’t as close.”

Niasha Kodzai ’24 expressed that she loves “staying in touch with my Park friends because, as a community, everyone is so understanding and supportive. Even in the toughest times, we are always there to pick each other up, whether it’s by making each other laugh, being a shoulder to cry on, or simply being there for support. From the beginning, we have always had such a strong bond that is worth maintaining no matter how far apart we are.”

Sahib Chandi ’24 said it best when he stated that he feels as if “our class is going to take on virtual life this semester with a positive attitude because I’ve seen that exemplified throughout this year. Even though our final days in high school got cut short…it was in that same moment that our [Park] class began to Zoom regularly, eventually hosting our own ‘Park Prom.’ Zoom was where we all first became friends, and I’m excited to see how we continue the tradition.”

This is an unconventional semester. Life is throwing so many things at us right now, and we are all doing our best to dodge them. But consider catching those things that are flying in the air—those obstacles that seem to aim for you right where it hurts. Take a moment, and look at them. Decide to do what you can with them. Turn them into opportunities to thrive alongside others during this crazy, hectic time, and let yourself make use of this uncertainty. For all you know, this period of time may make you and your relationships with your peers even stronger.