Facing the unknown and the unprecedented

For those going off to college for the first time, there are a lot of questions -- except this time nobody has any answers

Five members of the Brookline High Class of 2020 (from left) Anna Dong, Clay Baker-Lerner, Dee-nah Wattana, Renata Shen, and Yiming Fu.

HiE graphic

Five members of the Brookline High Class of 2020 (from left) Anna Dong, Clay Baker-Lerner, Dee-nah Wattana, Renata Shen, and Yiming Fu.

Anoushka Mallik, Brookline High

As COVID-19 swept through the nation, many lives were thrown off course, including those of many students in the Class of 2020. In the midst of this pandemic, they are attempting to navigate their goals and expectations from colleges. Here are the opinions of a few seniors from Brookline (Mass.) High School who are going through this themselves.

Clay Baker-Lerner, Brookline High School, Class of 2020. (Phoebe Kallaher / Brookline High)

CLAY BAKER-LERNER

The New School, dramatic arts 

Q: What are your new expectations from college regarding COVID-19?

A: One, I expect that, if we do online education in the fall, tuition will be lowered because it’s simple to say that the education and experience you’re receiving online is not the same as what you would receive in person. Personally, I am of the camp that if it is clear that online school would be the reality, colleges should universally defer students for a semester, and come back in January where it’s much more likely that it will be safer. I think colleges should recognize how poor this online education system is going for most people, and see that maybe, instead of changing the system it might just be best to wait it out a few months. 

Q: If it was online, what would your ideal experience look like?

A: I think it’s different for me because I’m going to acting school, but I think that teachers would definitely need to be very understanding about deadlines. I think it would need to be a more relaxed situation because people are not in very positive mental or physical situations. I want teachers to be people with their students, to understand that this world situation shows us that we are more than a teacher-student relationship. We are just two humans in this world dealing with this same thing, so we’re both learning. We should be looking out for each other’s best interest at this time. So, making sure that schooling still happens, but putting mental health first and making sure everyone is healthy before we worry about deadlines and grades.

 

Q: How do you think it’s different for acting school?

A: From what I’ve heard from friends who are in acting school, and what I’ve experienced myself, a lot of it is less worksheets and writing papers and a lot more actually getting up and feeling in your body. Eventually you get into actual scenes, and writing actual scripts, but a lot of it is just fooling around in your body for many classes. It’s going to be hard to do the more physically demanding parts of acting, but you can still complete a worksheet or write a paper for the most part. 

Q: What has your college done so far?

A: My college, The New School, I know that they had an emergency relief fund where students could apply and get a certain amount of money based on how much their need was. They decreased the wages that their high administrators were getting in order to make sure everyone was getting paid. I’m not really sure what else, since I’m not a student yet, but I know that they are taking some steps to ensure the payment of people and I think they are currently planning on going back in the fall, even if it is online. I think they don’t want to go a period of time without school so they want to start back up in September, and, if that does mean online education, that’s what it will be. 

Q: Do you have anything you want to add?

A: I already talked a lot about mental health, but that should be everyone’s No. 1 priority right now. I think that when the situation is a virus that affects people physically, people focus on those actually infected with the virus, which is definitely an important focus. But, for the essential workers and the people whose lives are being thrown off course this is not the best time, and that needs to be taken into account. It can’t be assumed that if you’re physically healthy that you’re all good.

Anna Dong, Brookline High School, Class of 2020. (Courtesy photo)

ANNA DONG

Harvard University, biology

Q: What are your new expectations from college regarding COVID-19?

A: My expectation would be that we continue learning. Obviously online learning is not the same as in-person, you won’t get to interact or collaborate to the same extent that you would in person but I expect that we would be in class some way or another, and that we will learn. We may be able to join clubs, but even if we can’t be in the same room I believe that we will still learn a lot. 

Q: What does your ideal college experience look like?

A: I definitely think the ideal college experience, especially for a first-year, would be to go on campus. But, now that we have COVID-19 I think that, even when we return to college it will look a little different, especially with social distancing. We might be wearing masks, we might have to stay further apart, we might be in different classrooms. So, in an ideal world things would look like they did before COVID-19, but I understand that things can’t go that way right now.

Q: What has your college done so far?

They plan to release more information in the summer, so as of now, we don’t know if we will be on campus or online, but I think there are different modes of reopening. There is the stay at-home completely remote option. There’s the option where you might return to campus but have online classes, so everyone is together but there are more social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Then, there’s the full reopening, going back to campus option which I think would be a little difficult at this time. 

Q: Would you rather have an online first semester or have all colleges defer for a semester?

Although online classes are not ideal, I do think it makes more sense to start classes in the fall rather than defer a semester. If you defer a semester, I think it would have a chain reaction in terms of the other years of college and maybe your summer or other breaks. 

Q: Do you have anything you want to add?

A: I have faith that colleges will make a decision in the interest of students’ health and wellbeing, and even though this is not what I imagined my first year to be, I will still be able to experience a lot of cool things, learn a lot, and meet new people. 

Yiming Fu, Brookline High School, Class of 2020. (Courtesy photo)

YIMING FU

Northwestern University, journalism 

Q: What are your new expectations from college regarding COVID-19?

A: I don’t have a ton of expectations, but I was just reading an article about what the University of Massachusetts system is going to do and they’re just going to focus on science and whatever happens, happens, and I think that’s a really important stance to take. I’m expecting universities and colleges around the world to follow that model. Also, a sense of understanding because I’ve seen people posting about colleges charging the same tuition, and so I think I’d be looking for a sense of empathy and understanding as well.

Q: What does your ideal college experience look like?

A: I don’t really know what it is in this situation. I’m going to start in the fall and just see what happens. Obviously, I’d love to have all the welcoming activities because I think it makes the transition easier and you get to get a sense of spirit and get to know the place better, especially because I haven’t visited. So, I would want to have an immersive experience but I don’t know if I will be able to get that.

Q: What has your college done so far?

A: I haven’t gotten any notifications related to anything COVID-19. The last emails I’ve gotten have been next steps for what I have to do between May and June. I just got an email about housing, so I thought they would say something there, but when I read through it there wasn’t anything and I was kind of confused. I know they had a livestream with the president, but there’s nothing uniform that everyone was supposed to see. 

Q: Do you have anything you want to add?

A: I do plan on starting in 2020, as in I’m not planning to take a gap year, just because, for me, I don’t know what I would do. I want my life to flow as normal. Even though things are strange, I want to keep some parts of my life the same, and keep time moving in the same way it would have. 

Renata Shen, Brookline High School, Class of 2020. (Courtesy photo)

RENATA SHEN

Washington University in St. Louis, international studies and anthropology 

Q: What are your new expectations from college regarding COVID-19?

A: I know that my college will be releasing a detailed plan about what they will be doing next year. I know that we will have a fall semester, but what I’m expecting is a very detailed outline of whether or not it will be online, whether it will be a transition, whether it will be a delayed start, just a very concrete plan moving forward. For freshmen, I’m expecting an outline of how we will have orientation; how they are going to transition new things for freshmen.

Q: What does your ideal college experience look like?

A: In an ideal world, I would definitely be on campus. With that being said, I don’t think my college experience is worth the prolonging of this epidemic. I also think it’s important for all of us seniors to recognize that, yes we are suffering, but we can’t equate it to what other people are going through. So, in an ideal world I would have campus for fall semester, but I think reducing the threat of COVID-19 is a lot more important than whether or not we go online next semester. 

Q: What has your college done so far?

A: To make up for the loss of accepted student days, they have been sending me a lot of free stuff. I have gotten T-shirts, merch; they sent me hand sanitizer in a “COVID-19 stress box” which I thought was really sweet. They have also put together a fall contingency committee to decide what they are going to do next year. I got a video message that was sent to all the incoming freshmen and their families that basically said, “We don’t know what we’re going to do yet, but we have a plan for when we’re going to decide, and we’ll let you know when we have that decision.” They have moved all of their summer programs online, and I’m not taking any summer classes, but I have a friend who is taking calculus II over the summer and that’s all going to be online programming.

Q: Would you rather have an online first semester or have all colleges defer for a semester?

A: That’s a hard decision. I think I would rather have a universal deferral to the second semester, just because having online classes is not a fun way to start college. The concern though is about tuition costs. I would like it, but I just don’t think it’s possible given the nature of tuition and the way that universities have structured their business model. So, it would be awesome to defer, but I don’t know if it would be possible.

Q: Do you have anything you want to add?

A: It really sucks in a lot of ways, but the fact that we get to have this experience to be a historic class is kind of exciting in a lot of interesting ways. We get this once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we’re really living through history. We’re living through this experience when we’re coming of age, and if you think about it from that perspective, it’s a really unique time for us. 

Dee-nah Wattana
Dee-nah Wattana, Brookline High School, Class of 2020. (Phoebe Kallaher / Brookline High)

DEE-NAH WATTANA

University of Edinburgh, Scottish ethnology and history 

Q: What are your new expectations from college regarding COVID-19?

A: I got an email from my school saying that they plan on opening in the fall. I don’t know if that is just because that’s their hope or if that’s because in Scotland it’s not that bad, or if they’re dealing with it better but, realistically, we might start with Zoom classes and see where that goes. 

Q: In what ways do you think your experience is different because you are an international student?

A: I think it’s different because the US is the worst in the world, so I don’t think colleges are thinking all too optimistically about the fall. Also, getting a visa is a whole ordeal. I’m not sure if I have to go to an embassy but, if I do, that’s not possible right now. I guess another thing to mention is that in the UK they can either give you a conditional offer or an unconditional offer, and I have a conditional offer meaning I have to get a 4 on an AP [advanced placement] exam to be accepted.

Q: What does your ideal college experience look like?

A: It would be normal. I would have friends, classes would be fun, things would be normal. Given the circumstances, I think it looks like starting in the fall, getting a visa, things being open in the fall. 

Q: Would you rather have an online first semester or have all colleges defer for a semester?

A: Zoom classes are really awful. I find them so tiring, and I’m less focused so I would rather start in January. If they use some kind of assignment or grading system, getting used to that without any guidance would be really difficult. 

–May 18, 2020–