From left: Laurel Stanley, Nell Beaty, Natalie Herr. Graduating seniors describe their experience during the pandemic and how it changed their last year at Lehigh. (Courtesy of Laurel Stanley, Nell Beaty, Natalie Herr)

Lehigh seniors reflect on graduating amid untraditional school year

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Lehigh’s class of 2021 experienced a final year of college like no other. They had to spend the entire year learning almost exclusively online and had limited in-person social interactions with their friends. 

Each graduate had their own unique senior experience, and will incorporate the life lessons they learned throughout this school year into their first job or experience out of college. The Brown and White spoke to six seniors about what their last year at Lehigh was like. 

Sammy Baker 

Sammy Baker, ‘21, said the biggest lesson during her senior year was making the most out of what Lehigh has to offer.  

She said the biggest loss was not being able to attend traditional Lehigh events in person. 

“My last Le-Laf, concerts on campus; all of these things that would’ve been so fun for senior year either didn’t happen or happened virtually which isn’t the same,” Baker said. 

Baker lived in an off-campus house this year, and said she took advantage of being able to take classes outside when the weather was nice. She acknowledged that the extra downtime during quarantine allowed her to better focus on schoolwork, job applications and her hobbies. 

Baker said she will miss having her friends just a room over and seeing familiar faces walking down the street is a luxury she will miss when she returns home. Even the small conversations with other students in passing made a big difference in her college experience and she will miss those times, she said. 

“I never thought I would say this, but I really miss in-person classes,” Baker said. “I miss being able to easily ask my professors questions and even just talk with my friends before and after class.”

Her biggest advice for upcoming senior classes and all students is to make the most of what Lehigh has to offer, join a new club or organization that makes you happy and go to all of the events. 

Baker said she will be moving back to her hometown of Tampa, Florida over the summer and is currently looking for a job as an engineer there. 

Emily Landgren

Emily Landgren, ‘21, had a fairly positive experience learning remotely this year. 

She said she got the best grades of her college career during the fall 2020 semester and attributes that to giving herself more time to focus on schoolwork and the empathy professors showed throughout the pandemic. 

“In terms of academics, even though it was hard to do it online, I still feel like I got a lot out of my classes and all of my professors were really dedicated to making sure their class was fulfilling,” Landgren said.  

Landgren said she also missed Le-Laf, Pride Center events, Lehigh After Dark events and shows at Zoellner Arts Center. 

She said those events are taken for granted, and helped foster a sense of community during her college experience, which she will continue to cherish after graduation. 

Landgren said it’s extremely important to participate in memorable activities throughout college. She said she is currently eating at all of her favorite Bethlehem restaurants before the school year ends and new places she’s always wanted to try.  

She said there is a lot she learned during her senior year. 

“Both realizing how important time to yourself is, but also realizing how important the random, spontaneous, fun things are,” Landgren said.  

Landgren will be continuing her studies at the University of Texas, where she’ll be pursuing a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering Acoustics. 

Joey Saba

Joey Saba, ‘21, a biochemistry major and pre-med student, faced many inconveniences during his senior year. 

He said he struggled to complete his chemistry research in the lab and wasn’t able to go abroad last summer.  

Saba admits his senior year workload was more conducive to the online environment, and initially struggled to stay motivated at the beginning of the pandemic. 

“I was taking really difficult classes and that was brutal because I had to switch from being in class and being on top of everything to being online and having your bed right next to you,” he said.  

However, Saba said he made the most of his time interacting with friends through FaceTime, text and playing video games. 

Fortunately he’d been vaccinated early and felt comfortable enough to meet up with friends in small groups. 

As Saba reflected on some of the positive aspects of the pandemic, he acknowledged the importance of introspection in his development as a person. 

“I learned a lot about myself as well as a lot about things around me and how I respond to situations,” Saba said.  

Saba said he took small moments for granted, like studying with friends in FML, and he will miss the ability to make plans and see friends on a whim. 

His advice to future senior classes is “Carpe diem.” 

“Don’t be afraid to tell your friends that you love them or that you enjoy spending time with them,” Saba said.

He also said it’s even more important to prioritize mental health. 

“You never know when you’re going to need to be mentally strong,” Saba said. 

Saba will be taking a gap year between graduation and ultimately medical school. He will spend the time taking the Medical College Admission Test, applying to medical school, working as an EMT at St. Luke’s and traveling. 

Laurel Stanley

Laurel Stanley, ‘21, found the importance of reaching out to friends and connecting with peers in many different ways during her senior year.  

She said simple gestures, such as reaching out to plan a Zoom call or meeting up with a friend to take a walk, have had an immense impact on her relationships and overall well-being. 

”This year, I’ve realized that you really have to put effort into your relationships, which is an important lesson to learn as I enter the real world and as my friends and I all scatter across the country,” Stanley said. 

Stanley said she will miss seeing the people most meaningful to her and having all of her friends located within walking distance. She is also sad to leave the friends and connections she made through the National Alliance on Mental Illness club.  

Stanley said living off campus in senior apartments was a bit challenging, since she was unable to see many of her friends because of the COVID-19 guidelines. 

“I live with people in different organizations and it was hard to figure out how to keep our bubble relatively small when my roommate and I all had friends in different areas,” she said. 

While she made the most out of an untraditional senior year, Stanley admits it was difficult to miss out on her last Le-Laf in the fall.  

“With all the milestones I feel like everything has a contingency or modification, but I do feel like I’ve made the best of it with what I can do,” she said. 

Stanley will be going back to school in the fall to attend the graduate school of nursing at the University of Massachusetts Medical School where she will enter a five-year program to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. 

Natalie Herr

Natalie Herr, ‘21, said she will miss the campus community and the close friendships she’s formed throughout the years the most. 

“I’ll definitely also miss the campus and being able to walk around on a nice day, as well as the South Bethlehem community and all the amazing restaurants it has to offer,” she said. 

Herr said the biggest challenges this year were the overall inability to connect with friendly faces or acquaintances she has made through classes, clubs and organizations.  

While she believes the circumstances have gotten easier since restrictions have decreased throughout this semester, Herr said the little things, such as going to in-person classes and making connections with peers and professors, was difficult to miss out on. 

Herr said the biggest lesson learned from her senior year during a pandemic has been to learn how to adjust to what’s thrown her way.  

“I’ve learned to look at things from a positive light when I need to, and am thankful to have at least been here, surrounded by a few people that I really love,” Herr said. “When unexpected things happen, the best way to deal with it is to make the most of the situation.”

Herr will be moving to New York City and starting work in September at Ernst and Young in the auditing department.

Nell Beatty

Nell Beatty, ‘21, initially struggled to adjust to online classes, but adapted as the year progressed. 

“A lot of my classes this spring semester were very small, which made it a lot easier for me to connect with my classmates and my professors,” she said.

Beatty also said she found it difficult to miss out on fun Lehigh traditions such as Le-Laf. 

While she has had a great second semester as a result of getting to experience more senior traditions, she feels as though she missed out on a lot with the irregularity of the fall semester. 

Beatty said she felt as though her time at Lehigh was cut short due to the events of last spring. 

Beatty said she is going to miss her friends, all the fun activities and unique traditions that Lehigh has to offer. 

Her biggest advice for students is to “Go with the flow.”  

“Whatever happens happens, so learning to be okay with bad circumstances is definitely a lesson I’ve taken out of this year,” she said. 

Beatty will be attending graduate school this fall at Parsons University in New York City, enrolling in their design and technology program.

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