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2024 College Grads Led the Way Through COVID

by | Apr 30, 2024

A friend recently reminded me on Facebook that this year’s college graduating class is the first one to have had their senior year of high school interrupted by the pandemic. Not only that, but many of them had to trade in their freshman year at college for an online experience. She referenced Pat Molnar’s article, “Why the Collegiate Class of 2024 is Different Than Any Other Class” (Grown & Flown). Molnar calls the Class of 2024 “pioneers, innovators and guinea pigs.”

My daughter Sydney happens to be in the college graduating class of 2024. I remember vividly her final term of high school. Spring Break was extended a week, then classes went online as news of this strange coronavirus snowballed and the world was suddenly shutting down in ways we had never seen before. “There was no roadmap,” according to Molnar.

Sydney’s senior year of high school fizzled as hospitals filled up and the threat of illness and death loomed large in our communities. There would be no spring sports, no memory-making final days and weeks of high school.

Even graduation was postponed. In that strange in-between time, we didn’t have a date for this important milestone. Nor did we know what the ceremony would look like when and if it happened. Would there be a drive-by graduation where the headmaster handed diplomas through the car window? Or would the school rent a drive-in theater and have cars pull up and listen to speeches through a microphone?

Because Sydney attended a small, private school, the staff was able to rent a large church for the ceremony, one that provided for social distanced seating with empty pews in between each family group. My daughter was still able to give her senior speech along with the other students. It was a meaningful event. But mostly, parents were relieved the school had found a way to honor the hard work and accomplishments of this class of seniors.

Sydney Campanella

Sydney’s freshman year of college at Queens University was no less strange. She met her professors and the other students online during Zoom classes through the screen of her computer while she sat at her desk in her bedroom. I hated that she was missing the experience of sitting in classrooms, getting to know new friends, and enjoying the social aspects of campus life. Perhaps it was her age, or the fact that she wasn’t fully aware of what she was missing, but she adapted fluidly to online learning and rarely complained.

For her second semester, Sydney was allowed to move into the dorm. But the restrictions of mask wearing, having to stay in your room, and the cafeteria being closed to dining warped the collegiate experience.

Or perhaps it just reshaped it. By her sophomore year, Sydney was more than eager to reach out and develop friendships, to have fun with her classmates, (even if they didn’t sit in a classroom together), to party off campus where restrictions were less stringent.

Sydney joined a sorority during her sophomore year and became the Social Chair, an unexpected move for someone who had never considered herself “outgoing.” She took chances and expanded her horizons. Over Christmas break that same year, she flew from North Carolina to Utah by herself to babysit the kids of a family she worked for. She planned her sorority’s Spring Formal on a yacht. After her sophomore and junior years, she was awarded two summer internships with well-known companies. She became Vice President of the McColl Business Club her junior year, and the Events Chair her senior year, and she will graduate with University Honors.

My daughter tends to downplay her accomplishments. But as her mom, I am astonished and proud of the many ways she has grown. COVID-19 definitely played a part. It didn’t make her who she is, but it provided challenges and hardships that helped her stretch in new and unexpected directions. It created obstacles she learned to navigate. If the other students who went to school are anything like my daughter, and I believe they are, our communities can stand in awe as this COVID generation of college graduates demonstrates creativity, resilience and strength. In the face of formidable and trying times, they have already learned how to be survivors.

When asked how she feels about the impact of the pandemic on her final term of high school and her college years, Sydney says, “The hardest part is looking back and realizing I missed out on a lot. But on the other hand, I’m lucky to have my own unique experience.”

Ann Campanella

A former magazine and newspaper editor, Ann Campanella is the author of two memoirs, Motherhood: Lost and Found and Celiac Mom, and a social media influencer on Instagram with her account @glutenfreeforgood. She is also a manager/director of, a nonprofit organization with the mission of sharing Alzheimer's and dementia resources to light the way for others. A 1982 Davidson alumna, Ann has lived in the Lake Norman area for over 30 years with her husband Joel, who is also a Davidson graduate.

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