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The COVID class: 2024 reflects on their time at Princeton

An image of a dining hall with high ceilings adorned with chandeliers. Wooden tables line each side of the room. Sunlight streams into the building. Students are seated one to a table and social distancing signings are present on the floor.
Students social distancing in Mathey Dining Hall.
Justin Cai/ The Daily Princetonian

As the Class of 2024 prepares to graduate on May 28, a time of celebration brings back memories of what proved to be a formative event in the Class of 2024’s college experience. March 2024 marked the fourth anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Daily Princetonian sat down with five members of the senior class to learn more about the strengths and lessons the Class of 2024 — the ‘COVID’ class —  has brought to Princeton during their four years here.

On Aug. 7, 2020, President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 announced in a campus message that during the Fall 2020 semester, “undergraduate education will be fully remote,” a decision that, according to some members of the senior class, would prove to be one of the most formative for their class’s identity.


The Class of 2024’s Princeton experience began over Zoom, with virtual orientation. Stephen Daniels ’24, who also served as USG President for 2022–23, said in an interview with the ‘Prince’ that the Class of 2024 missed out on the “typical orientation experience,” and therefore did not have the opportunity to fully understand “how things work at Princeton.”

Traditionally, orientation takes place a week before fall classes begin, immediately following first-year move-in. Students spend several days traveling in small groups through the Community Action, Dialogue and Difference in Action, or Outdoor Action programs. After the small group experiences, further programing explains and explores the values of Princeton’s community. Students also meet with their academic advisors, peer academic advisors (PAAs), and other Residential college staff.

While some members of the Class of 2024 entered the University through a virtual format, others, who were formally members of the Class of 2023, joined after deciding to take gap years. 

Keith Zhang ’24, who took a gap year during the 2020–21 school year, experienced an in-person orientation with the Class of 2023.  He recalled being told to leave campus in March 2020

“They told us, ‘Oh instead of packing for one week of spring break, pack as if you are leaving for two, just in case this little thing doesn’t blow over,’“ he told the 'Prince.' The night before I was supposed to fly out of here, they were like ‘Nevermind. Pack everything. Get out. You’re not coming back.’” 

Sydney Eck ’24, one of these former members of the Class of 2023, was on Novogratz Bridge Year 2019–20 in India when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Originally told Princeton's shutdown announcement would not affect the program, within 24 hours Eck boarded a plane back to the United States as airports across the world shut down. 


Eck is a former head Features editor for the ‘Prince.’

“Bridge Year is really incredible … It was really sad to hear that it wouldn’t be happening for a couple of years,” Eck added. 

Eck shared that when they returned for their sophomore year, now as members of the Class of 2024, they “had to reintegrate into a new community.”

These seniors, who paused their times at Princeton, point to their unique identity as the bridge between the pre-COVID Princeton and the post-COVID Princeton. 

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Zhang identified the difference in campus expansion between when he left in March 2020 and when he returned from his gap year just over a year later.

“Coming in, in 2019 … we already knew the plans for [New College West] and other projects, but it was really a surprise when I came back and all of those things were already put into action,” he said. “Now, I live in NCW which is mind-blowing because in 2019, that wasn’t there.” 

Aside from physical changes to campus, clubs and other student groups dynamics changed in response to the pandemic. Daniels attributed the change of many student groups on campus to the Class of 2024’s willingness to shift after the pandemic. 

We had a “hunger for Princeton to be what we wanted it to be,” he noted.

Rohit Narayanan ’24 shared similar sentiments as Daniels and Johnson, also highlighting the Class of 2024’s willingness to lead. 

“There have been some really interesting elements, I fear, which I think a number of organizations have noticed — like a little bit less interest in leadership from the Class of ’25. There are definitely some differences in how the pandemic shaped different classes, and there are some positions that evidently the Class of ’24 was a little bit more interested in,” he said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’

Narayanan was the 147th Editor-in-Chief of the ‘Prince.’ 

Groups also made changes to meet evolving COVID-19 safety protocols. Sydney Johnson ’24 told the ’Prince’ that she appreciated the opportunity to make positive changes on the women’s club volleyball team.  

“Something that we were doing right when we got back to campus after COVID — we were one of the only teams wearing masks and making sure we were staying safe but also going to tournaments,” she added. 

All five seniors agreed on the Class of 2024’s legacy. According to them, their gratitude for being at Princeton, specifically on-campus with the entire student body, is a quality Princeton is losing upon their graduation. 

Zhang told the ’Prince’ that the campus will lose “the appreciation of being able to come to school and being able to be provided so many things by one of the most resource-centralized campuses in this world.” 

“It’s not that I feel a lot of people take it for granted. It’s just that I think they don't know what they're able to utilize and what they’re missing out on,” he said.

Johnson also acknowledged the Class of 2024’s profound gratitude. “I think we learned not to take anything for granted and to really make the most of every moment rather than looking towards the future and expecting to do things, because we weren't sure if the future was going to be promised on campus,” she said.

“I think [Princeton is] losing a really resilient, diverse, and adaptive class,” she added.

“[L]earn from the 2024s. Just because the impression you get of Princeton seems fixed — it’s not a permanent thing,” Daniels noted to future graduating classes.

Hallie Graham is a News contributor for the ‘Prince.’

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