The Not So Forgotten Class

A 22S check-in with Dartmouth ‘24s.

by Stephanie Sowa | 4/13/22 2:05am

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Source: The Dartmouth

With mask mandates and required weekly testing now a thing of the past, it’s tempting to want to put COVID-19 behind us. However, two years of living through a pandemic have irreversibly impacted all of our lives, and for the Class of 2024, these years defined their introduction to Dartmouth — a time period usually characterized by community-building and fanfare, redefined in Fall 2020 by isolation and tragedy. With things seemingly returning to normal this spring, it’s time to check in with members of the so-called “forgotten” class once again. How are the ’24s doing now — and do they even identify with this title? 

As many students recall, Dartmouth enforced incredibly strict pandemic restrictions during the 2020-2021 school year. Nowadays, stories about the dystopian 20F term are passed around like folklore — reminding members of the Class of 2025 just how different our freshman experience has been. With life having seemingly returned to normal, it can be easy to forget that these events occurred less than two years ago, and even now, the effects of a tumultuous first year still linger for the Class of 2024. How can students enjoy sophomore year if they still feel suspended in freshman year disorientation?

According to Nicholas Derby ’24, his parents couldn’t enter the building when he moved in during 20F — they had to stand in the parking lot and watch as he unloaded his belongings.

Despite the challenges of move-in, Derby and his peers expressed gratitude for the guaranteed freshman housing during their fall and spring terms, when campus was limited to 50% capacity. However, most classes were conducted over Zoom — Derby’s economics class was one of the few in-person exceptions — depriving students of classroom learning, which, arguably, is the entire point of attending a college as expensive and prestigious as Dartmouth. 

“Not getting [the classroom experience], definitely was like, ‘Why am I here, paying $80,000 to go to school on Zoom, when I can do that just about anywhere for a lot cheaper?’” Alexa Lomonaco ’24 said.

Trying to make new friends is overwhelming during the best of times, so it was especially hard for ’24s to manage while being told to limit contact with others. The characteristic excitement of freshman fall was tainted by what Lomanaco called a “police state” that instilled fear within her class.

“You really couldn’t do anything without being worried about getting sent home, which was hard especially when trying to make friends,” Lomonaco said. 

Students could report their peers for breaking pandemic restrictions, and Safety and Security patrolled campus intently. The consequences for violating Dartmouth’s draconian COVID rules created an eerie setting across campus.

“The floor below me in the fall, most of the people got sent home Halloween weekend,” Derby said. “It was scary going down there, seeing signs that all the rooms were empty.”

Thankfully, as the weather improved and restrictions eased during spring 2021, the Dartmouth community gradually started coming out of its shell. Students could socialize outside and sign up for Dartmouth Outing Club activities to explore the beautiful natural surroundings. 

However, campus wasn’t back to full capacity until fall 2021 — and by then there was suddenly a new class on campus: The ’25s had arrived. While Dartmouth’s newest class was experiencing First-Year Trips and a more typical in-person introduction to campus, many ’24s were returning for their second fall, still feeling new.

“A lot of people felt that we were even less oriented than the ’25s when we started [in the fall] because the ’25s had some in-person orientation activities,” Derby said. “We didn’t know where any of our classes were, and stuff like that.” 

Although it was difficult, ’24s pushed themselves to become more familiar with Dartmouth and make the best of their experience. 

“Wow, I still feel like a freshman,” Lomonaco said in reference to her sophomore fall. “Being a UGA helped with that because I had actual freshmen with me all the time, so I had to learn my way around and figure things out so I could help them.”

Since many sophomores still felt like first-years, it was odd for them to experience matriculation and the traditional candlelight ceremony after the ’25s. While these efforts were appreciated, sometimes the execution fell short.

“I feel like the problem is, it was too late,” Alex Salyer ’24 said. “We were already jaded, and people left our candlelight ceremony early.”

However, things like the Homecoming bonfire and campus clubs inspired more enthusiasm, as did the newfound ability to go out without fear of being sent home. Greek spaces were mostly foreign to the ’24s because of the social restrictions in place during COVID, but after rush and shakeout, that unfamiliarity soon dissipated.

“Rushing was the first time I actually got to meet sisters of houses, go into houses or find out where the houses were,” Salyer said. 

Salyer was happy with how her rush experience culminated despite having little knowledge of Greek life prior to entering the process. Lomonaco and Derby echoed her sentiments, having also had positive experiences with their newfound Greek communities.

“Just because we may not have gotten our freshman year, it doesn’t mean that we didn’t get anything,” Derby said. 

Even months later, the direct effects of the ’24s’ challenging first year are visible on campus today: Salyer noted that the administration was “spooked” by the negative reactions to last year’s COVID policies, and this year, Dartmouth managed with a higher COVID case count instead of employing strict isolation measures.

“I don't think we were forgotten, but I feel very much like a guinea pig class, an experiment gone wrong,” Salyer said.

Reflecting on the current term, the ’24s described feeling much more at home on Dartmouth’s campus. Additionally, their class’s chaotic journey has more students wanting to stay on campus and remain engaged with the community.

“People really want to be on campus,” Salyer said. “People want to study abroad, but also it’s very much like ‘If I don’t get it, I get to be on campus more.’” 

Many ’24s are utilizing their off terms to do research or remote work that maximizes their time in Hanover. However, some sophomores still chose to leave campus during their first “normal year” —  Lomonaco described having a fantastic time with Dartmouth’s domestic study program in Washington, D.C., although she said that FOMO is ever-present. 

“Being away this spring is a little hard because this year was our first normal year, and I was really starting to enjoy it and find where I belong on campus,” Lomonaco said. “The experience I’m getting is worth it, but it’s a different world here.”

Despite the chaos they endured, the three ’24s I interviewed were not convinced that “forgotten” is the right term for their class.

They all came to a similar conclusion: While their first year at the College was poorly handled and many parts of the quintessential Dartmouth experience slipped through the cracks, the ’24s have evolved in a unique way compared to other classes.

“I do feel like it provided a certain level of bonding though, because we all went through that really weird experience that the other classes didn’t have,” Salyer said.

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