Why the Collegiate Class of 2024 is Different Than Any Other Class

This spring, thousands of college graduates will put on their cap and gowns and walk across a stage to receive their diplomas. Their parents will wave proudly from the stands and post their pictures all over social media.

Been there, done that, right? 

No. Not really. This class, this collegiate class, deserves a little more recognition this season. You may wonder what makes them so special. The answer is simple. Many of them were the high school Class of 2020.

We all remember 2020. The Pandemic Year. The Year We Stayed Home. The Year Our Plans Changed. The Year of Cancellations.

The collegiate Class of 2024 is different. (Photo credit: Pam Molnar)

The Class of 2024 is unique

The teens who graduated high school that year are the same ones who will walk across the stage this spring. They are unique. The last four years of their education have been different than any other class before them. They were pioneers, innovators and guinea pigs.

There was no roadmap for them. They couldn’t ask their parents or older siblings for advice on how to navigate virtual classrooms, date while social distancing, make friends when their facial expressions were covered by a mask, or how to find closure for their senior year that was cut short.

At first the high school Class of 2020 enjoyed the break from in-person classes

At first, many of the Class of 2020 probably enjoyed the thought of two weeks off from in-person classes. It would be the best senior ditch day in history. Most of the schools and teachers were not prepared for virtual classrooms.

Attendance was harder to control so many didn’t show up to their virtual lectures. Many of the ones that did already had an infectious case of senioritis and didn’t really pay attention. 

Who could blame them? Most of them were already accepted to their college of choice. Their GPA was calculated for the first 7 ½ semesters and the last one didn’t count. They would enjoy this break from routine and deal with the consequences when they returned to the classroom. In the meantime, they would do online assignments in their pajamas and turn them in minutes before the midnight deadline.

Everything would just be pushed back, they were told. Their final sports seasons would start later, cutting out just a few games. That’s alright, they reasoned. They would still get their varsity year, beat the school records they were so close to and be recognized on senior night. It would just be two weeks.

Two weeks off grew into one, long endless cancellation

So they waited patiently, but with the mandated social distancing, they missed their friends. They only had a few more months with these friends – many of whom they had known since kindergarten – before they headed off to college.

Some of those teens were also trying to navigate love relationships. The pandemic happened at a time of their lives when physical connections to people their age were as essential as breathing. Yes, they figured out ways to keep socializing through phone calls and FaceTime and video games, but it just wasn’t the same as being in person. 

The two weeks morphed into four weeks and then eight weeks. Slowly they learned that the events that they had been looking forward to for four years – that they earned – would not be happening. There would be no spring season for athletes. No final play, concert or trips. No senior lock-in. No prom. Worse yet, for many, there would be no graduation ceremony.

Most of the seniors never returned to their high schools

Most of them never saw the halls of their high schools again. They finished their classes online, without the benefit of labs, PE or group projects. Their education was suspended, partially because there was no way to hold them accountable for their work.

The contents of their lockers were boxed up and returned to them along with their diploma. The closure that they hoped for never came.

It was for the greater good, they were told. You will be going to college in the fall and the cases are starting to go down. It’s almost over. Everything will be better after the summer, they were promised again. 

All of their plans were cancelled

Without the formal closure of their high school years, the seniors did their best to enjoy the summer. They spent time with their friends and family, although many public events like concerts or 4th of July celebrations did not happen.

They worked their last days at their summer jobs and stopped off at all their old haunts, knowing in months that they would be headed to their post high school plans. But soon the reality of their situation set in. None of those plans would be as they expected. 

The carefree days of summer masked their reality. (No pun intended.) College in the fall of 2020 would be as unique as their senior year. Just like the previous school year, this freshman class would be guinea pigs.

The Collegiate Class of 2024 would enter college without the freshman class picture on the football field. Without freshman mixers. Without festivals on the quad. Like everything else in their pandemic-driven worlds, rushing for Greek life would take place virtually.

College is hard enough without complications

College is hard enough when you don’t know anyone. We tell our teens to put yourself out there and make friends. But imagine moving to a new place where you knew no one and not being allowed to sit together at a dining table or play frisbee on the lawn.

Imagine meeting new people without the benefit of facial expressions that were hidden behind masks. Online social events and more online classrooms would give those freshmen flashbacks to the end of senior year. Would they really have to endure another year of this?

The answer is yes, they would. Many students struggled to learn in an online environment, especially those who were in hands-on fields like nursing or mechanics. Others grew frustrated having to teach themselves the curriculum they were given by professors who wouldn’t or couldn’t see them in person. 

This class ended up being pioneers

This Collegiate Class of 2024 was once again pioneers traveling on roads that have never been taken. The roadblocks were maddening, painful and unfair. They would be met with ultimatums regarding their personal choice to take a new vaccine or not. Take it and stay in classes, Greek life and social events. Don’t take it and submit to weekly testing, denial of entrance to school events and quarantine in your dorm.

The isolation got to many of them. They missed life as it used to be. Being away from their families and isolated in their dorms made them crave human interaction. All of these things left our kids reevaluating their choices – stay and see how college plays out or leave and start over with plan B. 

This class will soon graduate

The Class of 2024 will soon cross the stage at their universities – many donning a cap and gown for the first time. They are not only more educated but stronger for their shared experience. They endured everything we took from them, every pivot we asked of them and every ounce of patience we expected from them. They deserve not only our applause but also our admiration.

This group of young adults showed us how to stand firm in a storm, not knowing when or how it will end. This perseverance will serve them well in their lives.

It is a lesson they could not learn in a classroom. They discovered it is the light from within them that will guide them through the darkest days.

More Great Reading:

23 Best Ideas for College Graduation Gifts for 2024 Grads

Pam Molnar is writer, storyteller and escape room creator living in Nashville, TN. This former Chicagoan and mother of three lives in an almost empty nest with her husband and two crazy cats. You can find her on Facebook.

About Pat Molnar

Pam Molnar is writer, storyteller and escape room creator living in Nashville, TN. This former Chicagoan and mother of three lives in an almost empty nest with her husband and two crazy cats. You can find her on Facebook.

Read more posts by Pat

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