A collegiate experience often marks a turning point in one’s life as they shift from childhood to adulthood.
While making a doctor’s appointment or doing your own laundry are both components of adulthood, the real push to become a “grown up” begins when you leave home for the first time.
Leaving your community for the first time comes with a heightened sense of self-awareness in what makes someone who they are as they learn how to interact with those who are different from them and put their young adult skills to the test in a brand new environment.
In coursework, students are able to delve deep into their interests and ask themselves who they want to be, how they can develop their skills professionally and how they can make the world a better place using what they’ve learned.
Many of us have been asking ourselves these similar sorts of questions since the beginning of March as the world went into a comprehensive shut-down due to COVID-19 and have continued to do so as other social and political issues have bubbled to the surface.
For those either returning to Bethlehem or are just beginning to make campus their home for the first time, the current cohort of Lehigh students this fall are doubly impacted by the immense amount of growth possible in these ever uncertain times.
As we embark on what may be the most unfamiliar school year in Lehigh’s history, upon returning to Bethlehem, everyone is missing what this time of year should look like.
It’s not normal to wave to your classmates through a Zoom screen. It’s not normal to have to do a double-take when seeing a friend for the first time in months because you are both wearing masks. And it’s not normal for first-years to be living in single rooms and eating out of to-go containers.
It’s no secret that everyone in the Lehigh community is upset by how this semester is set to unfold. Very few students have classes in person and it is difficult for upperclassmen to come back to a campus they consider to be a second home and see it turned upside down.
First-years are attempting to make new friends in an environment that they’ve never been a part of before, yet policies regarding residence life inhibit socializing.
And the school’s litany of about-faces and implementation of complicated — sometimes unintuitive — policies like the tuition discount and the testing strategy have only been exacerbated by atrociously poor communication.
But while it is easy to fall into a cycle of being upset by what is “supposed” to be happening, there is a very real opportunity for the Lehigh community to exhibit its best parts, despite the administration’s shortcomings in handling these impossible circumstances.
How do you foster a community for new and returning students when the university is arguably in its least authentic state?
This is something every member of the community has been grappling with as they’ve been confused and put through the wringer with decision-making for this fall. While it is easy to sit in this sadness and talk about what could be better, the core elements of what makes the Lehigh experience are still possible to maintain if we do our best to adapt to the current situation.
Through the first few days of classes, if one thing remains clear, it is that Lehigh professors care about their students immensely.
Not just in the academic sense, although that has been proven by their dedication to creating the best possible online courses, but as people. They care about how they are handling the issues of the world, their family situations and their adjustment to this newer learning format.
Those relationships don’t have to be compromised if communication remains strong. It’s on students as much as professors to continue to foster relationships as they would were campus to be operating as usual. The departments in which you take classes are meant to support you in pursuing that growth to the next version of yourself in how you apply what you’ve been taught outside the classroom to the world at-large.
We’ve all been taking a lot of time the past several months thinking about how the world in 2020 will impact our lives and how we look at circumstances going forward. As we progress into the fall semester, utilizing the resources the university is still able to provide for you in order to continue that growth both in and out of academic settings will tremendously benefit your experiences this fall.
Despite the constant flurry of sadness, grim projections and bad news, we can still make the most of this semester. COVID-19 has taken so much from so many of us — but here at Lehigh, a school rife with intellectual activity, exciting conversations and new discoveries, it doesn’t need to halt your progress in education, career goals or personal growth.
Take what Lehigh does best — its students, staff and faculty — leave the rest behind, and run with it.