‘Two days left of college’: Seniors reflect on community, experience as 'COVID class'

In their final days as undergraduates, members of the Class of 2024 shared some of their fondest memories at Duke.

The seniors — part of the last undergraduate class that experienced disruptions from COVID-19 —  reflected on school spirit, community and their mixed feelings toward graduation and life after college. 

As a line monitor, senior Ruth Player recalled leading cheers in Cameron Indoor Stadium and getting Jon Scheyer to join the student section during Countdown to Craziness. 

One of Player’s favorite moments was celebrating her friend’s birthday at Krzyzewskiville during tenting season. For her, what made the moment so memorable was how her friends came “from a little bit of everywhere.” Some people at the party were from her first-year dorm or shared classes, while others she met for the first time in K-Ville. 

“It was such a quintessential Duke experience because tenting is something that only we have,” Player said. “But also, it was the people that had made my Duke experience so wonderful. All of them were in one nice place right there.”

Senior Elias Lai's college experience was defined by the spontaneous decisions he made with his friends, from taking up portrait photography to starting a band.

One of Lai’s most cherished memories was the decision to grab “hot pot in the rain” with friends when classes were canceled due to the flash flooding and strong winds brought by Hurricane Ian in 2022.

“It was very windy … but because there were no cars on the road, I thought it was pretty safe,” he said. 

Senior Cate Knothe’s favorite college memory took place beyond Durham. Throughout her two study abroad experiences in Prague and Berlin, she formed a tight-knit community with her cohort of exchange students and professors. She recalled frequently visiting the program director’s house for dinner, where she and her friends would reflect on their time in Europe while enjoying the family’s homemade ravioli. 

Knothe believes that her study abroad experience allowed her to grow socially. She said that meeting new friends who shared her passion for art and film gave her the courage to overcome her social fears and be more outgoing. 

“I met a lot of really wonderful, artistic people, and I think through that I got a bit more outgoing just because there were so many people to socialize with.” Knothe said. “They were all very, very extroverted people and so I think it maybe rubbed off a little bit on me.”

The first-year experience

For many graduating seniors, arriving in Durham at the onset of the pandemic disrupted the social dynamics of their first-year experience. Knothe remembered staying in her room most of the day and “never see[ing] another living soul.”

“It's honestly kind of a surprise that I made any friends at all. Just because I felt like I was very nervous of social interaction after spending months and months inside during the lockdown,” she said. 

The semester of virtual and hybrid learning was coupled with “to go” dining for students, who often ate in their dorms alone. Dining seats were taped off and plexiglass barriers were installed at Marketplace.

Despite the dining restrictions, the now-seniors still found a way to foster social connections. Knothe’s first-year social circle began when she met two students while ordering takeout from Pitchforks, both of whom became some of her closest friends and roommates.

Player encountered similar difficulties making friends while complying with social distancing protocols. She noted that most social connections were made in dorms, given the limited interaction over online classes and lack of extracurricular activities. 

According to Player, many students faced pressure to form a small circle of friends despite the circumstances because “two people is better than nobody.”

“People latched on to the first person they could find and made it work, and there are a lot of really great friendships that still exist because of that,” she said. 

Feelings about graduation

Seniors expressed both apprehension towards leaving their college home and anticipation for their lives after Duke. 

Player, who will be pursuing a masters degree in architecture at the University of Virginia, said she has not come to terms with the reality that graduation is just around the corner. For her, the realization that she will see some people for the last time is a “depressing thought.” 

“I literally am the opposite of the song that Jared McCain sings. I [have] two days left of college and I’m about three AutoCAD plans behind from graduating,” Player said.

Lai is proud of the four-year journey he had in Durham and believes that “everything worked out for the best.” He now prepares for his next chapter: medical school. 

However, while taking graduation photos for his friends and classmates as a portrait photographer, he couldn't shake off a sense of sadness.

“It's not exactly disheartening, but it feels kind of strange to be capturing these final few moments,” he said. 

Knothe said that if she visited Duke again in the future, she would take a stroll in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. 

“Freshman year, the Gardens was really the only thing outside of my room and Zoom that I was able to enjoy,” she said. “That was really a saving grace and a safe space freshman year.”

Player said she would like to relive her first night moving into Duke as a first-year, when she took a bike ride around campus and saw the Chapel for the first time.  

“It's so gorgeous and so many people are like, ‘it looks like Hogwarts.’ But also, it’s beautiful in its own right,” Player said. “That's a nice small moment that always made my day — it’s coming up Chapel Drive and seeing the Chapel.”

Lucas Lin | University News Editor

Lucas Lin is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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