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Life on campus for a ’24

<h6>Sameer A. Khan / Fotobuddy</h6>
Sameer A. Khan / Fotobuddy

A long line of sophomores file into the Campus Club, anxious to get their hands on a frozen treat. The Class of 2024 Ice Cream Social is in full swing, the air thick with anticipation and humidity. Outside, a large crowd has formed on the lawn. Students dance to loud music while their peers snap photos in front of a black and orange balloon arch, their class year projected boldly on the wall behind them.

The scene is in stark contrast to last semester, when public health measures prevented large gatherings. But with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the Class of 2024 returned to a Princeton that was notably more interactive. Many ’24s, myself included, also moved to campus for the first time this semester. As students adjust to this new environment, their thoughts and feelings offer a unique perspective on the University’s transition as a whole. With this in mind, I sat down with three members of the Class of 2024 and spoke with them about their past year.

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Rafael Collado 24 and Dennis Jacob 24

For my first interview, I spoke with Rafael Collado ’24 and Dennis Jacob ’24. Collado is a computer science concentrator who stayed with his family in Miami last semester. Jacob studies Electrical and Computer Engineering and was on campus in the spring. The three of us grabbed dinner at the Forbes dining hall and then headed over to the lobby to have a conversation.

I opened the conversation by asking the pair to describe their experiences last semester. “Hectic, isolating, and more difficult than first semester,” Collado said. He explained further, stating it was hard not being on campus for a second term.

To my surprise, Jacob agreed with Collado’s description, despite moving in last spring. “I was on campus, but I can apply some of the same adjectives,” Jacob said. He stated that quarantining was a major obstacle to meeting people, as last year’s first-years did not have the opportunity to mingle with their peers at the beginning of the term. He noted that isolation negatively affected other aspects of his life as well.

“I didn’t feel like taking care of my room. I was sleeping really late, and my sleep schedule got messed up,” he added. However, despite these difficulties, Jacob still affirmed the value of moving to campus in the spring, as it taught him how to live by himself.

Collado said he resonated with this point and elaborated on his decision to stay home. “I don’t regret my experience, but part of me does wish I had gone on campus,” he added. He mentioned feeling like he was missing out on certain social dynamics. Yet, he said he believed he had ultimately made the right decision, as he didn’t feel ready to move to campus at the time. Still, the choice had its costs.

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“Now that I’m here, I’m taking advantage of so many new experiences. It makes me sad because I feel like I lost a year of experiences,” he said.

I asked them to share an aspect of campus life this semester that surprised them. Having never stepped foot on campus before the fall term, Collado commented on the enclosed nature of the University.

“One thing that’s surprised me is the Orange Bubble, the fact that it’s a real thing. I realize now that everything is concentrated around campus,” he said. Collado also noted the shock of seeing his peers for the first time. “Seeing people in person is so novel to me, coming from a year of online classes,” he said.

Agreeing with Collado, Jacob reflected on the current semester’s atmosphere compared to the spring term. “It was like campus was still, this aura of things not moving. This semester there’s a real flow to things. There’s kind of a common energy and it feels more alive,” he said.

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Afterward, we spoke for a moment about the activities the students had participated in since arriving on campus. Collado attended the Tour de 2024, a series of events organized by the Class of 2024 Class Government, and went to a couple of theatre shows. Jacob mentioned everyday habits, such as going to Dillon Gymnasium and having meals with other people.

“Getting out of my room is such a big difference,” he said. “You shouldn’t be doing everything in your dorm room twenty-four hours a day.”

When I asked the pair whether they thought the informal or formal aspects of campus life were more important, Collado attested to the importance of informal interactions.

“The little things are what made this semester what it is,” he noted. Among these little things was humor. “Whenever you hear your professor make a joke, being able to hear the people laughing — it just feels so much more organic,” he explained.

Jacob concurred, recounting the somewhat regimented nature of last year’s virtual environment.  “Informal things are what make up life,” he noted.

As a final question, I asked Collado and Jacob to list some projects and experiences they were looking forward to. “Making more campus applications from the Hoagie platform! I don’t know. There’s so much, I don’t know if I can give you a cohesive list of things,” said Jacob, referring to his involvement in Hoagie Club, a student-run software engineering team.

Collado expressed his excitement about performing with the Glee Club and mentioned his eagerness to experience the unexpected aspects of campus life.

“I’m just excited to take it all in, to be more involved, and to explore what the University has to offer now that I’m here,” he explained.

As our conversation winded down, Jacob shared an observation his friend made.

“He was joking the other day, ‘I met more people on the first day this semester than the entirety of last semester,’” said Jacob, chuckling underneath his face mask, suggesting he was both sad yet amused to think his friend was probably right.

Veronica Arciprete 24

Veronica Arciprete ’24 is a prospective molecular biology concentrator who came to campus last semester. The two of us sat down at a table in the South Courtyard of Whitman, the afternoon sun peeking out from behind clouds.

I started the interview by asking her how she thought spring semester went. “Last semester was better than the first semester because I was on campus, but it didn't feel like Princeton was a community,” she said. “It was nice that they were trying, but it kind of just made me feel more isolated. I didn’t make any true connections through virtual events,” she said, adding that she eventually stopped attending online activities.

We discussed what she’s done this semester that she wasn't able to do last year. Like Collado and Jacob, she mentioned small things, like eating with people in the dining hall and going to interest meetings, while also praising the Tour de 2024 events. “I thought it was really nice because we missed out on that. We finally got to be part of the traditions,” she explained.

When asked about what has surprised her about being on campus this semester, she spoke mainly about Princeton students’ friendliness. “Everyone’s very nice and helpful, which is very different from the isolation you feel when you’re just in your room,” she said. She added that people were much more open and kind than she would have thought. “I didn’t get to see their kindness the first few semesters,” she noted, explaining that often one can’t tell if another person is being genuine through Zoom.

I also requested Arciprete share her favorite on-campus event. “The Class of 2024 Ice Cream Social because it was really nice to see our class together as our whole class,” she said. She explained that it was nice to meet members of her class and to see people from her courses. “And there was ice cream,” she noted, cracking a smile.

Like Collado, Arciprete emphasized the importance of humor to her positive experience this semester. “The thing I missed the most was laughing, trying to hold back my laughter in class, at stupid little things. You don’t get that connection during Zoom meetings. It’s very nice to laugh as a group,” she said. “It’s a great feeling, and I didn’t realize that until it was gone.”

Despite last year’s struggles, all three interviewees seemed optimistic about the year to come. After speaking with other members of the Class of 2024, it seems what students desire most out of their college experience is simple — to explore campus, make friends, and laugh. There’s no telling what the year ahead will look like. However, it’s clear that whatever’s to come, students will walk away with a greater appreciation for each other, and the space we live in.

Bert Lee is a staff writer for The Prospect who often covers music and artist profiles. He can be reached at alberthl@princeton.edu.

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