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De Padova '24: Feeling behind for first-year fall

My last day of high school was a Friday in March. That’s about all I remember. Initially, some teachers thought we would be back in time for graduation, while others thought that we would be kept out of school indefinitely, possibly until the fall. 

Being mildly optimistic, I, like many others, believed that the United States would reopen and be back to normal sooner rather than later. I found myself coping with the uncertainty and loneliness of the lockdown by fantasizing about a near and normal future. As April came and went, I looked ahead to graduation. But sitting in the passenger seat of my mom’s car as we passed under an arch of balloons for a drive-through graduation, I realized that things were far from normal. I once again needed to adjust my timeline. 

By mid-July, when I learned of Brown’s plans for first-years, I was disappointed at first but eventually came to terms with the decision. At least we would eventually be able to go back to campus, which was a privilege, especially considering how many other schools had opted instead for a completely virtual school year. I didn’t delve into the ramifications of having the fall semester off; it seemed inconvenient, but more like a four-month postponement than anything else. I didn’t see any way my college experience would drastically change. 

I maintained this blissful ignorance until the first week of August. I was on my lunch break at work when I received a Facebook notification from the Brown admitted first-years group. The sheer number of posts in the group usually discouraged me from checking the page. But on a whim that day, I opened Facebook.

The first post I saw promoted a club that a pair of first-years was starting; the next was on behalf of a genetics club looking for new members; the next asked for tips on how to succeed in an economics course. My heart dropped. I kept scrolling and continued to see more first-years highlighting all the activities they were getting involved in. It felt like hundreds of people knew something I didn’t. College hadn’t really started for us first-years, but somehow I already felt behind.

I ended my lunch break and returned to work, but the only thing I could concentrate on was how to ensure that my college experience wouldn’t be affected by my semester off. 

In the following weeks, I started bookmarking every club meeting I came across and looking through course descriptions in an attempt to regain a sense of control. Yet much to my dismay, clubs and professors marched on full steam ahead, never once mentioning what to me felt like the enormous elephant in the room: none of us first-years had even walked through the Van Wickle Gates. As a result, I felt convinced that my confusion and anxiety were purely my own. I felt isolated and incapable compared to my fellow first-years, who seemed to have it all figured out.

Recently, a doomsday scenario has blossomed in my mind: I finally arrive at College Hill in January, only to find that everyone else has already made progress in their classes, filled all the clubs I'm interested in and made friends of their own. I try to tell people, "You don't get it. College was supposed to be postponed," only to have my words fall on deaf ears.

Of course, a part of me realizes that there is a good chance that the events of this semester may be less crucial and irreversible than I am making them out to be. But this doesn’t make me feel much better. Because I am so detached from Brown’s campus, its community and my peers, I don’t know if I’ll ever find out if people feel this same stress. The forums we are provided with to communicate with other first-years are riddled with undertones of competition and comparison ― the thought of outing yourself as confused or unprepared is incredibly daunting.

While I feel alone at times, on a more fundamental level, I also know that I am sharing this experience with all my fellow first-years. It's comforting to know that regardless of how they are coping with this situation, other first-years are experiencing this weird state of limbo alongside me. Whether or not they show it, many students probably share my same worries. So, while navigating this semester may be hard, it’s heartening to know I’ll be doing so in good company.

Jordan De Padova '24 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and op-eds to

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