With four full weeks of classes remaining before the Class of 2022 hits the turf, marking the end of their time at University, fourth-year students look back with pride on all they have accomplished. Still, members of the Class of 2022 can’t help but notice how the COVID-19 pandemic limited in-person social interactions and community building for most of their college lives.
The Class of 2022 is currently the only class at the university to have experienced a full year without COVID-19 restrictionsbefore the pandemic forced the university to move classes online in March 2020. The first COVID-19 public health guidelines came just weeks before the Class of 2020 concluded with a changed In-person ceremony offered to members of the Class of 2020 a week before a similarly modified one ceremony for the class of 2021 last year.
Award ceremonies were held at Scott Stadium for last year’s closing practices to comply with congregation limits. The graduates were only allowed two guests who could not watch the graduates walk down the lawn. Final exercises will take place this year take place normally, for the first time since spring 2019.
Batten fourth-year student Audrey Hirshberg is looking forward to final practice but feels the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted some important aspects of her college experience.
“Having no chance to study abroad, I spent the semester I should have spent abroad at home, taking two courses while working part-time to gain additional experience in a job related to my future career related,” Hirshberg said. “I’ve been trying to make the most of the flexibility that COVID is giving me in online classes, but I’ve definitely missed some of the social aspects that you’ve come to expect from college because of the pandemic.”
Jack Wiler, a fourth-year engineering student, agreed that the pandemic was affecting his college experience, although he noted that many courses in his department already had virtual options, meaning the academic situation changed little for him.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted Wiler’s social life, which he says made his overall university experience worse. All of Wiler’s most treasured college memories are social ones — whether it was as a first-grader on the men’s basketball team won a national championship or as a sophomore in Virginia football beat Virginia Tech.
“As far as my training is concerned, to be honest, not much has changed,” said WIler. “But socially, I mean I’m a pretty social guy and I think it hurt my academics that everything sucked.”
After expressing regret over missed social opportunities, Wiler said he still feels he can complete “85 percent” of the traditional college experience and said he’s grateful for the time he gets with his friends and students can spend organizations. The friends he made in the Whether menthe university’s oldest improv comedy group.
“I would still say that I ended up experiencing everything you can really experience in college — the kind of idea of the college experience,” Wiler said.
Hirshberg also felt she was making the most of her time at the university, especially in her final year when personal student life returned to Grounds — vaccinated students, faculty and staff returned to normal in-person learning this spring, and there were mask requirements constant raised up during the semester.
“I think what I’m going to miss the most is the culture and the community at the university,” Hirshberg said. “Never again in my life will I be able to walk to all my best friends and have the opportunity to live, learn and have fun with them on a daily basis.”
Fourth-year college sophomore Julia Paraiso expressed her gratitude for being able to have a completely normal freshman year, citing the importance of building relationships and a sense of community before students are sent home.
“So we already had a community base and that foundation that we could feel comfortable with,” Paraiso said. “We knew we had friends and this group that we could come back to and check in with during the pandemic.”
The interruption of the pandemic too affected local hotels and businesses, including Graduate Charlottesville, a corner hotel whose bookings have declined during the pandemic. However, with normal finals on tap, bookings are picking up and the rush for finals appears to be returning to normal.
“Graduate Charlottesville is almost sold out for graduation weekend and overall we are seeing occupancy returning to pre-pandemic levels,” said General Manager Gillian Clark. “We are honored to serve as a home base for students and their families during such a special part of U.Va. Experience. We look forward to celebrating together with the Class of 2022.”
As the graduation practice celebrations fast approached, some students reflected on how short their time here at the university was, especially given the pandemic. Logan Botts, a fourth-year Batten student, studies in a “three-and-one” program in which a student graduates with a bachelor’s degree and stays an extra year at university to earn a degree.
Botts said that now that she has completed four full years at the university, she is proud of her time.
“I definitely feel like I’m more excited this year and can really graduate in the same ceremony as many of my closest friends,” Botts said. “And the closer I get to the end, the more I’m beginning to realize how great is what I’ve accomplished in those four years, and it’s really nice to take the time to reflect on that too.”
Paraiso reflected on her time at the university with gratitude but also frustration, and spoke of her despair at the lack of distinction between students and administrators in dealing with the pandemic that shaped her last three years at the university.
Paraiso was particularly disappointed with the university to permit the Executive Committees of the Inter-Fraternity Council and the Inter-Sorority Council to make decisions on whether or not rush events should be held virtually this year. university administration encouraged ISC and IFC leadership Move However, rush events — which typically bring hundreds of students together in a confined space for a week or two — online did not require it. Ultimately, the IFC chose to conduct recruitment entirely online, while the ISC permitted Chapter to personally host the final recruitment round and application day.
“Just relying so heavily on the fear of the third and fourth to make these sweeping decisions about how to protect hundreds of students — I think that was just the completely wrong response,” Paraiso said.
Despite the missed opportunities brought about by the pandemic, the students couldn’t help but think that everyone represented their degree.
“Graduating is the culmination of all the hard work I’ve put in over the past four years, but also the support I’ve received from many people around me, be it family, friends, faculty – so I’m definitely real I’m looking forward to it,” said Botts.