ABEL: Class of 2024, we did it.

Vanderbilt first-years should be proud; making it through the first semester of college with unprecedented hurdles is an accomplishment.

During+a+normal+school+year%2C+Vanderbilt+freshmen+line+up+to+spell+the+year+of+their+graduating+class%2C+which+unfortunately+could+not+happen+for+the+Class+of+2024.+Vanderbilt+University%29

During a normal school year, Vanderbilt freshmen line up to spell the year of their graduating class, which unfortunately could not happen for the Class of 2024. Vanderbilt University)

Zoe Abel, Staff Writer

Last week, I watched Nashville grow smaller and smaller in my airplane window until it had disappeared completely, replaced by fluffy white clouds hundreds of miles below. As I watched the city I’ve grown to love these past three months fade into a speck, I remembered the same feeling I had arriving here in August. I couldn’t sleep for nights before arriving on campus. I was scared out of my mind, anxious about making friends, worried about getting sick and quarantined and hesitant to leave my family behind. I was terrified about my first semester in college. 

Class of 2024, we began college amidst the strangest of circumstances. There are plenty of reasons to be anxious about the state of our nation: the coronavirus pandemic, the economic downturn, climate politics, physician burnout, returning to the classroom (or not) and racism, among other societal and personal stressors. 

These circumstances made starting our freshman year of college incredibly tricky. Being faced with the daunting task of transitioning to university life in the middle of a pandemic is terrifying. The looming threat of being sent home was present for the entire semester. Classes and events have been moved online, and socializing has been difficult. We have spent hours inside our rooms studying and suffered from Zoom fatigue. We have struggled with isolation, stress and increased mental health concerns. Some of us have even gotten sick or had to spend time in quarantine, away from the human contact that keeps us sane. 

And yet against all the odds, we succeeded.

We weren’t sent home in the middle of the semester. We followed university COVID-19 protocols while still making new friends and forming relationships. Many of us voted and campaigned for the first time and became politically active in the middle of a historic election. We met people from all over the world, both virtually and in-person. 

As a generation, we’ve faced enough challenges for a lifetime. We were brought into this world in the wake of the Sep. 11 attacks, in a time of paralyzing fear and uncertainty. Eighteen years later, we are becoming adults during a global pandemic. Our entire lives from the start to the present day have been unprecedented, historic and uncertain. 

We have always had a knack for making the best of bad situations—a difficult news cycle, an election that didn’t go as we hoped. We are passionate. We courageously put ourselves out there for the world to see and criticize. We push boundaries and challenge norms. We have already made it into the history books by playing the hand we were dealt and making the most of it.

Class of 2024, I’m so proud of everything we achieved this semester. I am proud to call you my peers, my teammates and most importantly, my friends. When all of this is over, we will no longer take anything we are given for granted. We will take each moment for what it is, look towards the future with optimism and gratitude and treat each other with compassion. When we reunite for our own college reunion as epidemiologists, researchers, politicians, scientists, historians and leaders, we will remember the difficulty of our freshman year and be better for it. 

I believe there is no better class to face this year’s challenges than the Class of 2024. We are creative; our generation can bounce between physical and digital spaces with ease. We are unwilling to be quiet; there is nothing the Class of 2024 won’t stand up for if we believe in it enough. We are confident and assured; we embrace our differences in ways some adults still struggle with. Most importantly, we are resilient; we made the best of a tough online semester and sacrificed our traditional college experience in order to ensure the health of our friends and family. 

I’ve also come to learn that in this time of great uncertainty, we need our allies more than ever. Right now, your new friends and classmates at Vanderbilt are among those allies in your corner. When you are at your most vulnerable, consult your corner. Assemble your allies. If they are truly your allies—friends worth holding on to over the next three and a half years—I promise you that they will never really be gone. 

If you’re a first-year, be proud of yourself. Reflect on all of the new friends you made, the memories you created, the problems you solved, the books you read and the places you went. Acknowledge that this semester was not easy, but your grit and determination helped you get through it. Remember how lost and scared you felt on your first day here, and notice how much has changed. Look forward to next semester with excitement and optimism. Know that your Vanderbilt community is always here to support you. 

Most importantly… go take a nap, you’ve earned it.