Dec. 14, 2012.
Little did I know, this day would forever be more than just an Economics I final, but instead a haunting memory.
It’s been almost four years since my Connecticut hometown was shattered by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, where 20 children ages 6-7 and six adults were shot and killed, a school that a majority of my friends back home once attended. However, I can’t help but remember this day as if it happened yesterday.
It was my freshman year at Lehigh. As the procrastinator I am, I’d been up all night studying for my exam, which I would soon be rushing through, so I could get back home to my family in Connecticut. While I had set my alarm for 11 a.m. to make up for the lack of sleep I had the night before, this alarm never went off. Instead, my roommate woke me up two hours earlier than I had planned.
“Dude, wake up,” said Victoria my freshman year roommate. “Your town, it’s all over Facebook right now.”
I lay there in my bed, my eyes still shut, I pretended like I didn’t hear her, hoping she’d realize I was still in sleep mode. However, I heard exactly what she had said, and I couldn’t help but laugh to myself a little bit. Why on earth would my small Connecticut hometown be “all over Facebook?” Did someone get caught for cow tipping on one of the nearby farms? Did the well-known Ferris Acres Creamery run out of ice cream? There was no way Sandy Hook or Newtown, Connecticut, could or would ever make nation-wide news.
I was wrong.
I could describe Dec. 14, 2012, better than any day last week, from what color my socks were to the exact moment my mother called me sobbing about the tragedy the only town I’d ever lived in was experiencing. However, this piece isn’t intended to describe the Sandy Hook shooting or to ask for sympathy.
That day I received eight concerned visits from girls and boys in my dorm and 20 text messages from students I had never spoken to before. Cell numbers that I had never seen, nor were saved in my contacts, were blowing up my iPhone’s home screen.
I don’t know if these members of the Lehigh community had known I was from Newtown or Sandy Hook from Facebook or from another social media platform, but that really didn’t cross my mind until much later. I never responded to these texts. Not because I was unappreciative of the support, but because plainly I didn’t know what to say. To respond with a message saying I was doing OK and that everything was fine would be a lie.
I realize now that these messages of concern were the most simple yet the most sincere forms of empathy. At the time, I had been part of the women’s rowing team, but the close ties and relationships with my sorority sisters wouldn’t happen for another month or so. In fact, many of my closest friendships today hadn’t even been initiated during the time of the Sandy Hook tragedy. It was my “freshman-year friends” that were my biggest support group that day and for years to come. Which brings me to the main purpose of this piece.
We’ve all heard the phrase “my freshman-year friends.” In my opinion, we need to get rid of this passive and offensive expression. Of course, as we get older, our experiences at Lehigh change. You may join a sports team, quit a sports team, join a fraternity or sorority that the rest of your “freshman-year friends” didn’t, join a club or begin a major that your “freshman-year friends” would never even consider.
Yes, connections and friendships will alter over time, as I have seen over my last four years at Lehigh, but just because you were once friends does not mean the previous late night hangout sessions in your dormitory common room, midnight runs to Hawk’s Nest or serious talks about a heart-rending event in your hometown are suddenly erased from memory. These are the first people that help you through and shape the beginning of your Lehigh journey, positive or negative, and they earn more respect than just being titled as “freshman-year friends.”
I will admit there are a few friendships from my first year at Lehigh that have not continued, but I can also say that three years later and I continue to uphold a strong relationship with many of my “freshman-year friends.” Many of them helped me through December 2012, which was one of the toughest and most tragic times at Lehigh for me and that is something I cannot just forget.
For the seniors, we have a little more than a month until graduation. Let’s not overlook the last three years and all of the connections we’ve made or the reasons we let them go.
Kelley Gaston, ’16, is an associate sports editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]