When interdisciplinary humanities senior Jaiden Paris was a sophomore, she sprained one of her toes just before the indoor track season.
Paris assumed she would heal as normal and return to the sport she loved. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic ended her sophomore track season early, and it was over a year before she and her team returned.
“I already was mentally drained,” Paris said. “Then, going back home and training … coming back, it was definitely a big change because we had to practice with masks on, we couldn’t even practice at certain times. Some days we couldn’t even practice because we couldn’t get into a facility, so it was very hard.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was just one of the obstacles shoved in the path of the class of 2022.
Four years ago, the then-freshmen class stepped onto MSU’s campus for the very first time.
As they packed into their dorms, hugged their families goodbye and walked through their first college schedules, they had no idea what the next four years held.
They thought about May 2022: a date that seemed forever away but is now standing at their doorsteps.
“(The Nassar-era) definitely did affect my time and experience at MSU,” social relations and policy senior Salena Thompson said. “I was reluctant to walk anywhere at night alone because I wasn’t sure about the safety on campus.”
Viewing much of the trials from their parents’ homes during high school, the class of 2022 had to integrate into a community that was still picking up the pieces.
“So many individuals from my high school were testifying in that court case,” English and psychology senior Kasey Patrick said. “So it was a day-to-day basis, you would see girls going to school, fully prepared with their statements, and you would see them on the news later that night. … Personally, it fully changed my perspective on who to trust and who not to as a doctor.”
In summer 2019, the class of 2022 got hope of stability when President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. became university president. He received the role after Lou Anna K. Simon’s January 2018 resignation prompted the class to work under interim presidents John Engler and Satish Upda.
Thompson said in Stanley's three years, she has noticed an increase in transparency from the university.
Other students are still waiting for the university to make major changes under Stanley.
“I think he does an OK job,” Paris said. “I feel like he waits a long time to speak (up about) certain topics. For example, police brutality, he kind of waits for it to be publicized in the media before speaking up. … I feel like sometimes when it comes to minorities, he’s not on top of it because it doesn’t directly affect him.”
A little over halfway into the class of 2022’s sophomore year, on March 11, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Michigan, and the university moved to online learning for what would be almost three semesters.
The pandemic quickly became tiresome for many students, as 79% were ready to return to campus by the fall 2020 semester, according to a survey by The State News. As we know, students didn’t truly get to re-experience campus life until a year later, in fall 2021.
For those who transferred to MSU during this time, the empty campus was especially striking from the normal hustle and bustle of the green and white.
“Being online was helpful when I started in that fall semester at MSU,” Patrick, who transferred to MSU in fall 2020, said. “But, from there, being a transfer student and being online only, the amount of people I was able to meet was very few.”
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The lack of social interaction during college due to the pandemic could create a challenge as students enter the workforce, Director of Collegiate Employment Research Institute Phil Gardner said in an email.
“Graduates don’t always realize that it takes a while to socialize and understand how an organization works, even if they’ve had internships,” Gardner said in the email. “Initially, the job could be boring until they get the hang of what they are doing. Employers want people to be on time and get work done; there are rarely extensions. Employers also value initiative, yet students can be hesitant to step up. The politics of any organization can be challenging.”
However, the pandemic has given the class of 2022 another professional advantage.
“The graduating class has learned to be adaptable because of online learning,” Gardner said in the email. “They have also had to adjust to new recruiting processes that have emerged from the pandemic.”
The effect of the pandemic was exacerbated by a summer of social unrest following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
By now, the class of 2022 was heading into their junior year, and many students, especially Black and Brown students, were dealing with the mental toll of racial inequality and police brutality. After all, just a semester prior, various racist events including a toilet paper noose hung on a Black student’s door and a survey sent out by a College of Communication Arts and Sciences professor that contained racist and harmful stereotypes occured on campus.
“I had to get off of social media because it was every day; every day, it was something new,” Paris said.
Thompson said while these events aren’t new for the Black and Brown community, it doesn’t make them hurt any less.
“We have experienced so much,” Thompson said. “It’s traumatizing as a Black student on this campus, a Black woman. We have to go through so much already, not only being students, but being Black people, and I think more needs to be done.”
Because of those events, the class of 2022 will likely experience more comprehensive diversity, equity and inclusion training in their workplaces, Gardner said in the email.
Many students said the experience was an interesting one, and with the option to vote early due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the class of 2022’s voting experience was different than usual.
“It was very interesting to see everyone else around me — I didn’t go on (Election Day). … I went early because I had the option to do that — (but) they literally give you a packet that explains who everyone is and what they’re running for,” Patrick said. “ It was very interesting to actually witness.”
Add this on top of a steadfast pandemic and social unrest, and it’s clear to see how the class of 2022 could have felt overwhelmed.
“They all were forming all at once,” Patrick said. “When the George Floyd (protests) and all the (other) protests were beginning, and then just watching the downfall of the election and our former President (Donald Trump’s) response to it — all of that was just rapid firing and making it worse, and academically, it was so hard to focus.”
From global pandemics to social unrest to unstable university and federal administrations, the class of 2022 endured many obstacles. However, all of the hard work will come to fruition for many in early May.
And no one else experienced the last four years as this class did. They’ve formed a community, even if they spent much of their college life behind computer screens.
“It taught us the important stuff,” Thompson said. “Staying together, staying in your community and just wondering and worrying about what matters the most.”
As for the underclassmen who are pushing toward their own finish line, Paris has one piece of advice:
“(Don’t) take anything for granted,” Paris said. “(It’s important) to be in the moment and to be present, because you never know when something is going to change, and it’s going to change drastically.”
This story was featured in our graduation edition. Read the full issue here.
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