The Rockwood Files: Dear College Freshmen

Dear College Freshmen,

I won’t try to sugarcoat it. Your freshman year sucked.

It wasn’t at all what your older friends, the movies or even your parents told you it would be. It was… underwhelming, at best.

I know this because my oldest son is one of you. On a recent weekend visit home, he said that, so far, college feels like a weird continuation of high school. He didn’t say this next part out loud, but I got the distinct vibe that, on the inside, he and millions of other college freshmen are wondering, “Is this really all there is?”

College was supposed to be this amazing launch into a new, exciting, adventurous phase of life, right? Except yours wasn’t. It was more like being shoved into purgatory – a sterile, colorless waiting room minus the company of other human beings.

And it’s not just the freshman college experience you missed. A little over a year ago, you went from being carefree high school seniors enjoying your top-dog status to being stuck in your bedroom, finishing high school on a laptop instead of with the friends you’d known for years. You were supposed to be able to celebrate that milestone together. There were supposed to be proms, and state playoffs, and graduation ceremonies and parties, with hugs and trophies and sheet cake and visits from proud grandparents.

But it didn’t happen that way. And with the approach of the fall semester, it was clear that things wouldn’t magically get better in time for your freshman year at college. Many of you, including my son, didn’t get to move to college last fall because his school and many others went remote-only for the first semester. For those who did get to move to campus, they found it to be an eerily quiet place, with students tucked into dorm rooms taking online classes the same way they did during the last months of high school.

There haven’t been long group conversations over lunch at the cafeteria, punctuated with laughter. There haven’t been smiles from a cute co-ed because you haven’t even met the lower half of your classmates’ faces yet. One of my son’s few outings this semester has been to get a biweekly Covid test required by the college. Nothing says “fun freshman year” like getting a swab shoved up to the northern hemisphere of your nostril, right?

But there’s good news. Vaccinations are finally available. Many of you have had your first dose and are waiting on the second one. By next fall, campus life will look different than it does now, I promise. No more tiptoeing around in your socially distanced bubbles, trying not to get sick or accidentally get your parents or grandparents sick with a potentially fatal disease. I hate it that your freshman class has had to carry that burden of worry. Normally, the biggest concern college freshman have is what to order from Taco Bell at 2 a.m. when you and your friends need food to get through an all-nighter of studying before finals.

But in the fall, you’ll feel like you can finally breathe – both literally and figuratively. And I hope your college administrators will create events to help the forgotten freshmen recover from the social isolation and disappointment you’ve felt. I hope you get a do-over on those freshman mixers and traditions.

These past 12 months, you’ve learned self-reliance and the importance of perseverance through incredibly difficult circumstances. Next fall, I hope you learn the joy of campus life the way it’s intended to be.

I hope there will be new friendships and crazy stories and a big dose of the relaxed freedom you’ve been missing for so long. You deserve it. Hang in there, Class of 2024. It’s going to get so much better than this.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of Her book is available on Amazon.