Fresh Perspective | Second-year, first-year experiences

Fresh Perspective is a biweekly blog about typical college experiences made strange by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Julia Smeltzer, Staff Writer

It’s that time of year again — the sidewalks are bombarded with blue moving carts and Forbes and Fifth come alive as students file their way back to Oakland, sparking the start of a new academic year. As I returned to campus as a second-year student, I quickly realized that the new class of 2025 is going to have an entirely different first-year experience than I did.

It is safe to say that the class of 2024 got robbed of a “normal” first-year experience last year due to COVID-19. Most of us lived in hotel rooms away from the heart of campus — where some of us lived by ourselves — while our day-to-day lives were restricted by mask mandates and important safety guidelines put in place by the University. Most of our interactions were from behind cloth masks and computer screens, as I didn’t have any in-person classes my first year. There were no sporting events, first-year socials, or anything to make the class of 2024 feel like an actual college first year.

As last year seemed to be filled with a lot of negativity, I made the most of it. I didn’t have to share a room with anyone, campus wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded and I was able to become close friends with the people that lived on my floor because all we had were each other. Going to college amid a pandemic showed us adversity, but coming back to campus when things are going back to normal — or at least heading that way — is giving us the true college experience we had dreamt about since we were little.

To start, in-person classes are back. The majority of us haven’t been in a classroom since March 2020, so when we heard there was a chance that the majority, if not all, of our classes would be in person this fall, it was a step closer to truly living the college experience. On Aug. 27, the first day of classes, I remember waking up excited and eager for the first day of school. In contrast to last year where I just rolled out of bed and turned on my computer, I got up and ready to head to campus for my in-person classes that day as I did in high school. 

The only issue with being a sophomore this year is that we are technically first-years all over again. I had no idea where exactly my classes were, and I’m not going to lie, I did end up asking a true first-year how to take the elevator to the second floor of the Cathedral of Learning to later find out it doesn’t even go there. Being in a classroom again after so long felt weird, but nice. Even though we still have to wear masks inside buildings it’s nice to be surrounded by people again and to meet my professors in person. 

Campus seemed like a ghost town last year, and it felt almost weird interacting with other students. It seemed like we all lived in our bubble on the same campus. I would see familiar faces here and there, but most of the time, we all kept to ourselves. This time around, with many more students on campus, it finally feels like a community. The sidewalks are busy with students walking around with their friends, restaurants are filled with noise and laughter again, greenspaces are filled up with spike ball games and picnics making campus finally feel alive.

With ample students on campus, more opportunities are arising for Panthers. The activities fair was in person — for a short time, before a thunderstorm delayed it to this weekend — which allowed students to truly have the perfect chance to get involved with activities and organizations around campus.

Sporting events are back and ready to welcome fans into the stands, and I couldn’t be more excited. I have attended many Pitt football games before in my life, but never as a student. Since my parents and brother went to Pitt, we were constantly trying to come out to Pittsburgh for a game to cheer on the Panthers. I remember sitting in the student section with my brother during “Sweet Caroline” and couldn’t wait for the day where I could sing “let’s go Pitt” as a Panther myself. 

We were lucky enough last year to have a football season because it gave us something to watch, but unfortunately, we couldn’t go to any of the games. This past Saturday was the day I have been waiting for for many years — my first Pitt football game as a Panther. That day was buzzing with excitement as students showed off their school spirit in blue and gold. As I was screaming chants with my best friends and singing “Sweet Caroline” in the student section, I finally felt like I was living my true college experience.

With it only taking an unconventional freshman year of college to get to this point, I would say it was worth it. With in-person classes, social and sporting events and seeing campus come back to life, I finally feel like I’m truly living my college experience.