For many, thoughts and memories of the college experience are those of newly found independence, a sense of community, and at the very least, face-to-face interaction. But due to the outbreak of a novel coronavirus, people across the world had to put prior academic career plans on hold, including the 2020 graduating classes of Frederick County Public Schools.
Many of these individuals did not get to see an end to their senior year of high school. As they left mid-March for what was said to be two weeks off, the only worries were that this “vacation” would take up valuable snow days. No one could predict that these students might have to experience their first year of college over video conferencing apps.
Nakiya Sutton attended her final semester at Tuscarora High School in 2020 and graduated directly into the oncoming coronavirus pandemic. There was not an entirely clear idea of what she wanted to do after high school, and COVID-19 only served to narrow the choices. The pandemic further influenced her discomfort towards just “jumping into” the college scene. She had heard high praise from fellow students about the classes they were taking at FCC, and she had gone on several college tours, including one to Hood University, that helped her create a positive idea of the college experience.
“It was fun to hear about and then actually see the different dynamics represented through the different activities offered” Sutton says.
At the end of her senior year, she was set on going to FCC, but there was a certain level of hesitation, and the arrival of COVID-19 only solidified that feeling. She decided against attending college in the 2020-2021 school year. This gave her many opportunities she probably would not have pursued otherwise. She spent the newly found free time to maintain a steady job, save up some money, and take steps to start getting her driver’s license. Overall, she is glad she let the pandemic push hovering thoughts into fruition. It provided her with time to put things into perspective.
“It helped me figure out what I want my impact to be in this world.” she adds.
Mackenzie Chapin was excited to earn her degree in Marine Science at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Then COVID-19 spread to the states, and she debated taking a gap year. A middle ground was reached as she decided she was not going to Eckerd yet, but would take three courses semesters here at FCC. It was a good choice for her situation, as it helped her “with being able to transfer certain Gen Ed credits in the long haul” she says. It even allowed her to get an internship at Owl Moon Raptor Center, a birds of prey rehabilitation center in Montgomery County.
Melissa Yeniceli took a different path and decided to proceed with her original plans of attending Towson University for the 2020 fall college semester.
“It is really hard to stay motivated and focused at home,” she says. “When I’m on campus it requires me to hold myself more accountable”.
She still can hang out with certain friends without too much worry going towards coronavirus because they all get tested very frequently. Being able to see people after the six-month social drought has even helped her mental health to a certain degree.
“I no longer have the temptation of ‘hey, your TV is downstairs’ instead I have the positive influence of the school and my fellow peers.” she mentions.
To bring in perspective from a slightly different experience, Sam Rearick was already attending FCC when the pandemic hit. She had experienced about a semester and a half before all classes went virtual.
“It’s very difficult for me to learn strictly online,” she says. Nonetheless, she is proud of her engagement levels preceding the pandemic and is happy with her overall experience at FCC. “In all honesty, my level of engagement was reflected by the level of engagement the teacher gave to the class as a whole and to the individual students”.
She has, since then, put more time into her job and focused on what she wants to do for the long haul in terms of making a living. She believes she made the right decision, even though some days she feels she is “being set back in a way” a common thread in COVID-19 related stories. “I hope to continue taking courses at FCC when it’s safer,” she adds.
Amidst a global pandemic, younger generations continue to show resilience in finding alternate paths towards academic careers, social life development, and occupational opportunities. Whether these experiences end up taking place at a four-year university or a community college, these students and many others like them have been forced to recognize that having plans does not mean having control of the future. For those willing to adapt and assess their situation, making the decision to do what is best for them is accompanied by many different options.