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Original photo by Samantha LaPorta

Reflecting on My College Experience as a Graduating Senior

Going to the College of Charleston was always my goal. This campus was the first and last tour I took when exploring my options in high school, as is shown in the picture above. As soon as I stepped on campus and saw the Cistern, beautiful streets, and felt the welcoming Lowcountry energy, I knew this place was for me. However, my path was a little different than most. I went to a community college for the first two years to save money so I could afford to come to school. In the fall of 2019, I officially became a CofC student. I remember the excitement of moving in that first day. I was so nervous but so excited at the same time. Looking back at that first semester, I have learned and gone through so much that has helped me get to where I am now. From transferring to a school where no one knew my name to completing three semesters in a pandemic, I think I may have some pretty helpful advice to help you on the rest of your time here at CofC as I reflect on my experiences.

You have to put yourself out there. This might seem obvious, but it’s so important and something that I learned quickly. You don’t make friends by chilling in your dorm all day and all night. You have to be forward and push yourself outside your comfort zone, literally. One way I did this was by getting myself involved in as much as possible my first semester. It was my busiest semester of all. I was never home and was always trying to meet others. This applies to classes as well -- since fall 2019 was pre-COVID-19, everything was in person. Making conversation with students around me made a big difference, especially in classes where I knew everyone had the same major as me! I also want to stress the importance of building relationships with professors. Start early! All the professors that I have had expressed genuine interest in how I was doing and my plans for the future. They are also excellent resources and great connections to have!

Not everything can be planned. As someone who likes to plan everything, this was a hard thing to learn. As much as I’m tired of hearing/saying/thinking about it, I can’t write this article without mentioning the biggest obstacle I faced during my time at college: COVID-19. It caught every single one of us off guard.

And I want to disclaim my future statements by stating that many people suffered the loss of loved ones during this time due to the pandemic. That is the ultimate loss, and I am beyond grateful to have stayed healthy during it and to still have my family members and friends around. I am not comparing my situation to those who have faced these tragedies. I am simply stating how this pandemic negatively impacted my college experience. 

And it did. After one full semester of the college experience, COVID-19 started appearing halfway through February of 2020. I don’t think anyone saw what was coming next. I sure didn’t think I would be sitting here right now one year later outside with a mask on talking about all the things the pandemic stripped from me. But it did. For most of the spring semester, all of Fall 2020, and all of Spring 2021, most if not all of my classes were strictly online. As someone who strives to remain positive in all situations, I was struggling to find the light at some points. I couldn’t connect with my peers over Zoom. You could and can still see the exhaustion of talking to a screen all day on everyone's faces. No one is really having the “Hey, my name is blank. Wanna hang sometime?” convo on Zoom. For a lot of my classes, students don’t even turn their cameras on. So, it’s just a weird situation where you’re trying so hard to focus on the class and not get distracted. On top of the class adjustment, many of the organizations I was a part of couldn’t operate anymore. The few that did were also switched to online formats, meaning that the ability to make connections with people through that was also hindered.

For a long time throughout 2020, fear was paralyzing everyone. Obviously, the priorities shifted. It wasn’t about “having an awesome college experience,” it was “how the heck am I supposed to do x, y, and z through a screen and be expected to learn all of this and pass all my classes while practically doing it on my own because I can’t focus through online learning?” And also, “I really hope I don’t get this virus and that nobody close to me ends up in the hospital.” It was a rough time for every single person.

Back to not planning everything, I had so many things planned. From study abroad opportunities related to my major to independent studies to a bachelor’s essay and getting even more involved on campus than I already was. I started off as such a motivated I-want-to-do-it-all student, but in mid-2020 all of my plans were in flames. That being said, this pandemic has taught me, and the world, that you can’t possibly plan for everything, or sometimes anything. Sometimes a curve ball comes in and throws off literally everything and everyone. And you’re not sure what the next move is going to be. You have to go with the flow. You have to keep trying. And as hard as it was for even me, you have to stay positive.

Looking forward: I definitely had my period of grief. I sat for a while and thought of all the things I could’ve done if I wouldn’t have been a transfer student, if COVID-19 wouldn’t have happened. I wondered where I would be now. And I felt sorry for myself. But I came to the conclusion that staying in that mindset was counterproductive. Because I did transfer, and I was a student going through a pandemic. Those are things that cannot be altered or changed. Feeling sorry for myself now does nothing for the future me.

I like to think I took advantage of as many opportunities as I could amidst a pandemic. I still participated in an independent study virtually in the fall of 2020. I applied and got into the CofC’s internship course and spent this semester gaining valuable experience. I maintained a good GPA. I spent three semesters in an organization that has allowed me to grow and learn so much, even from a virtual setting. This pandemic and college experience has truly made me stronger professionally and personally. It has taught me the meaning of adaptability and grit. What it is to keep trying and pursuing when you just want to roll over in bed, so you don’t have to stare through a screen any longer.

As I walk across the Cistern in less than a month, I will be thinking of all of this and everyone else who has lived through one of the biggest adjustments we have seen in our lifetime. I want to thank everyone who has helped, guided, and supported me through the past 4 years of my education and 2 years at CofC. Maybe one day, I can return and give back even a fraction of what has been given to me.

My time at CofC may not have been conventional, but it has been so rewarding.

I want to wish the best of luck to all graduating seniors and students at CofC, whether freshman, sophomore, or junior. I hope you can learn a little from what I’ve written and soak up every single second you get on this beautiful campus.

Hi, my name is Samantha! I am a senior here at the College of Charleston and am majoring in psychology. My interests include music, beauty, fitness, good food, and the city of Charleston!
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