‘COVID-19 generation’ students prepare to embark from Berry College

Sam Askew, Campus Carrier managing editor

EA Lanclos (right) and senior Mikayla Hendersen pose together while enjoying one of the few snow days at Berry. Courtesy of EA Lanclos

The Class of 2023 has overcome remarkable adversities. It will be the last graduating college class to have started college before the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that they have the unique experience of living through two types of college life: pre and post-pandemic. 

COVID-19 didn’t just affect academic life. The entire world was put on hold for a year while it reigned over our daily lives. However, despite the difficulties that this brought on, our world continued living. Humanity showed strength to carry on and not be defeated, and the Class of 2023 is the living embodiment of this strength.

Berry College made significant adaptations to cope with COVID-19. This included outdoor classrooms, social distancing, capacity limits, masks, vaccine clinics and periodic testing. While Berry doesn’t look the same as it once had, it has kept its spirit and promises.

Berry’s Class of 2023 includes those who had to adapt from regular college life to the rigors and stresses that come with a post-COVID-19 college experience. After the shutdown in March 2020, uncertainty reigned supreme over the hearts of not just students, but everyone everywhere. However, Berry, like many other colleges, continued on and the passion that is so prevalent in Berry students arguably excelled. 

That is not to say that students went without changes. The Class of 2023 have gone through dramatic changes from their first semester at Berry to their last semester here. 

Senior Trejohn Skinner is one of these students who have had to cope with a drastic change in their college life. Skinner is a music business major and a member of Berry Singers, Berry College’s choir group.

Skinner has grown a lot in his time at Berry, and COVID-19 expedited that growth.

Courtesy of Trejohn Skinner

“I feel like I’ve been a lot more open, like with opportunities that have come about,” Skinner said. “My freshman year I was very into myself and wasn’t really trying to explore a lot. Now I’m like ‘Oh, let’s go to this event, and this event.’”

While COVID-19 brought a lot of fear and uncertainty, it also brought some positive changes for Skinner as well.

“I guess I explore more,” Skinner said.

Despite the changes, students still had fun at the various events that make Berry special. Skinner described his enjoyment of Krannert Center Activities Board (KCAB) events and his performances as a Berry Singer. 

However, with graduation inching closer and closer, Skinner taking the time to reflect on his emotions and feelings.

“They’re all over the place,” Skinner said. “I’m excited to graduate, to finally be done, but at the same time I’m about to go into the real world. So, it’s like ‘Okay, am I ready for that?’ It’s a lot of mixed emotions.”

Berry students in particular have the task of adjusting to life outside of “the Berry bubble,” the sort of safe space that exists on the campus separate from the events of the world outside of Berry. Skinner shared some of his thoughts on adjusting to this dramatic shift.

“For me, at least, I think I’m ready to leave ‘the bubble’ so I can start implementing everything I’ve been learning over the years and just turn that into a career,” Skinner said.

As with any college student, there have been no short supply of lessons to be learned. Especially with the rise of COVID-19, life as a college student has been particularly difficult. However, Skinner has made the best out of his time here.

“To think outside the box,” Skinner said in regard to his lessons learned in his time at Berry. “Because I know there are moments where they allowed us to be creative and everything and you sort of have your own freedom to do anything that you want.”

Some wisdom can be found, though, for underclassmen from the Class of 2023. Skinner said that Berry is starting to be normal again, and even improving post-COVID-19 than it was pre-COVID-19.

“The underclassmen now have that ability to do what I didn’t get the chance to do,” Skinner said. “So, you know, just put yourself out there and go ahead and do it now because you have the opportunity now. It wasn’t there before.”

EA Lanclos is a graduating senior with an English and Spanish double major. Like Skinner, she too experienced tremendous growth in her time at Berry.

Courtesy of Carly Stewart

“A lot changed about Berry when COVID hit,” Lanclos said. “That hit my first semester as a freshman. So, that was pretty crazy. But I think the way I’ve approached my classes has changed a lot. I’ve noticed my ability to connect classes from different disciplines and different departments has improved a ton.”

Lanclos stresses the importance of refining skills that one uses in the classroom while at Berry.

“Work on your critical thinking,” Lanclos said. “And don’t take everything you’re told at face value, but really use your years at Berry as an opportunity to really think about what you believe, what you’re being taught and refine what you believe.”

Despite the stress that can come with college life, Lanclos emphasized the importance of learning through challenging tasks.

“Let yourself be challenged,” Lanclos said. “But also challenge others, I would say.”

Choosing a favorite moment at Berry was difficult for Lanclos.

“There are a lot,” Lanclos said. “I’ve had a ton of fun at different Berry events. Marthapalooza probably stands out as the highlight.”

Lanclos works for Berry’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program. She shared some of her work and favorite memories from the program.

“We had no program when COVID hit because most of our students don’t have the resources to do online classes or anything like that,” Lanclos said. “Basically, the program fell apart. So, I was doing a lot of rebuilding. At the end of last year when we had our end of the year ESL party it was really cool to see a lot of my hard work come to fruition and to see a lot of our students really taking big steps forward in their English. And to see also the fact that I can work a job as a student that also has big meaning is really connected to what I want to do one day in my career.”

Emotions are racing for many seniors as graduation date quickly approaches. Bittersweet emotions combined with excitement for the future have taken hold in the hearts of many seniors.

“It’s bittersweet,” Lanclos said. “There’s a lot of excitement because I’m very excited to step into the next stage. Also, a lot of gratitude just for everything I’ve learned here and for the person that Berry has made me.”

For Lanclos, leaving “the Berry bubble” brings more excitement than fear.

“I’m excited,” Lanclos said. “I think that ‘the Berry bubble’ is a good thing for here and now while I’m a student, but I definitely think I’m ready to step out into the real world and have contact with a lot of people who are very different than me.”

A lesson learned for Lanclos while at Berry is stepping out of her comfort zone.

“I would say just to be bold,” Lanclos said. “I think as a freshman I was very scared coming into college classes, and I never used to say a word, but then as I kind of learned to step into myself and voice my thoughts and opinions. I think I really grew in the way that I argue and in the way that I think.”

Carly Stuart, an environmental studies major, is another member of the Class of 2023 that has experienced significant growth in her time at Berry.

“I think the biggest difference is that I was really shy my first semester because I hadn’t come out of my shell and I was very introverted and scared to talk to people,” Stuart said. “After kind of getting involved in the community over the years, I’m super extroverted now. I love being with people and I just think I’ve grown a lot as a person through the Lifeworks program and other things that Berry has to offer.”

Choosing a favorite moment at Berry was difficult for Stuart, also.

“I honestly think Casino Night was really fun for me,” Stuart said. “Either that or Marthapalooza my sophomore year because it was so much fun. All the Berry events are really fun to go to because you’re just with people all the time and that’s what I love doing.”

Many seniors, like Stuart, are just ready to get done and be on their way.

“I just want to finish and walk across the graduation line,” Stuart said. “And just be done. I love Berry, but honestly this has been the hardest semester. So, I’m ready. I’m nervous, but I’m also really ready to just move on.”

At first, Stuart was feeling mixed emotions about leaving “the Berry bubble,” but that uncertainty was later replaced with excitement.

“I’m really excited to start a new phase, leave Berry, and move back to Texas, but I also feel like I’m leaving so many people behind,” Stuart said. “Leaving ‘the Berry bubble’ is bittersweet.”

Stuart has some advice for all those nervous and shy underclassmen that attend Berry.

“I would tell [underclassmen] to get involved in as many clubs as they could and do as many things as they could,” Stuart said, “Because you’re going to find people anywhere, so going to clubs and getting yourself involved gives yourself such a strong community versus staying in your dorm and only hanging out with the same few people.”

The Class of 2023, despite the difficulties that COVID-19 has brought, have shown themselves to be strong and capable. They are undoubtedly ready to enter into the real world, and Berry is doing all it can to make that transition as soon as possible. The commencement ceremony takes place Saturday, May 6, at 9:00 a.m. 

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