ABEL: A letter to the second class of COVID-19

From a former pandemic first-year to another; it will be okay. You will get through this.


Hunter Long

COVID-19 signage on Vanderbilt’s campus, photographed Oct. 26, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long)

Zoe Abel, Opinion Editor

Dear Class of 2025, 

Today marks day 527 of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This pandemic has taken us all by surprise; I never would have thought that my first year of college would look like this and I am sure you didn’t envision your first year of college like this either, but here we are. 

I remember the day I received my acceptance to Vanderbilt quite fondly. I let out a loud scream and leaped up in excitement. At that moment, I was overjoyed with everything that could come with my college experience. 

Would I go to every game? Yes. Would I join every club and organization on campus? Yes. Would I take every class in the course catalog? Yes. 

But when I was accepted to Vanderbilt, my life looked a lot different. TikTok recipes, toilet paper shortages, family walks, and bread-making had taken over. Global catastrophe loomed, but it seemed too far away to affect my fall semester. I found myself preparing for the start of my college career under a particularly challenging set of conditions. You, too, find yourselves in a similar place. 

Class of 2025, you are faced with a new reality and an uncertain future. We do not know what this upcoming year will truly look like, nor even the next few weeks. Many of you are making important decisions, deciding between majors and career paths—by extension, future versions of yourselves. Like all the classes that came before us, you and I should be filled with excitement about this coming fall, about the chance to begin your college experience. But for many of you, things haven’t been normal for almost half of your high school experience. The rites of high school were slowly stripped away; homecoming, crowded games, proms, and graduations seem to have become traditions of the past.

There were so many brief moments this summer where I believed everything would be normal. I foolishly believed you would arrive on campus without masks and all traces of the past year would be gone. I had hoped we could escape “Mask up!” posters, roundabout stickers on the floor and the ominous grinning squirrels that covered campus last year. While some of these things are gone, our campus experience is still far from normal. 

My hope is that your first year at Vanderbilt will be everything you imagined—and more. I sincerely hope you can go out whenever you want, hug every one of your friends, lose your breath from laughing so hard and stay up to have late-night conversations with roommates. I hope you can participate in sports, religious events and performances without a Zoom call. I hope you can walk across campus and see smiles and faces and real people. I hope you only know Vanderbilt as it is normally. 

I hope you never have to hear the sentence, “This was different before COVID.”

Vanderbilt needs more people like you. Despite the challenging times, the global pandemic, the economic uncertainty—you are here. You know more about vaccines, epidemiology and virus transmission than any other incoming first-year class. The pandemic has riddled every dinnertime conversation and news article for the past two years. You are writing the history books and making the best of what you’ve been dealt. Your continued determination despite the circumstances inspires the rest of us to keep going. 

Even if things do not change, you will learn. You’ll learn to recognize people through their eyes, their walk and the sound of their voices. You are a class of resilient, thick-skinned and self-motivated students. You’ve experienced more uncertainty and unpredictability in this past year than most people do in a lifetime. You will be okay. 

Wherever you are at this very moment, whether spending your first night in your dorm or scrolling aimlessly to avoid feeling homesick, know that you are not alone. You can get through this. You are getting through this right now. 

You made it to Vanderbilt, and for that you should be proud of yourself. You have already done something incredible. You will create new memories, solve difficult problems, learn more than you could imagine and make connections with other people. Your time at Vanderbilt may not be easy, but you have enough grit and determination to succeed. This moment marks the world as we know it changing—and we cannot even imagine the ways it will be different when this is all over. 

Here’s to all the memories, big and small, you’ll make here. Here’s to all the hard work and dedication it took to get you here today. Here’s to facing your first semester with tenacity and not letting a pandemic slow you down. 

Here’s to seizing the day, the next one and every one after.



A member of the first class of COVID-19