The cards have been laid out: this past week, the certainty for an in-person quarter was clouded by an email sent by Stanford’s administration announcing that the first two weeks of the winter 2022 quarter would be online. As Vivian and Kyla continue to reflect on the past two years of emails, which started with the house of cards that was last year’s plans in part one, we’re now looking at what did go right and what that may mean for our wavering in-person future.
Spring through summer ’21: A glimmer of hope
In the middle of winter quarter, the coldest of the bunch for a multitude of reasons, students received an email that should have been great news; however, it was met with skepticism. As Santa Clara County was inching closer to the Red Tier, Stanford announced on Feb. 25, 2021 that juniors (class of 2022) and seniors (2021) would return to campus. Students remained cautious, understanding the pandemic could shift at any moment and plans could change last-minute … again. But, as winter came to a close and spring approached, cases continued to decline and the only significant emails were room assignments and move-in appointments.
With no cancellations in-sight, the Classes of 2021 and 2022 returned to campus.
Kyla, a first-generation, low-income (FLI) student who applied for special circumstance housing, was able to spend the spring quarter on campus while completing virtual courses. It was nothing short of extraordinary, as it was her first time setting foot on Stanford’s campus and time well-spent finally making community. Campus in spring of 2021 was vastly different from the fall that would come — classes were still online, some common spaces in the dorms were locked, there were fewer dining hall entrances, all food was pre-packaged in to-go boxes (no soft-serve!) and most buildings with classrooms were locked. While she lacked connection with the rest of the peers in her class year, the frosh experience not entirely there, she made home in Burbank, found her closest friends and enjoyed Jarritos served in Stern Dining hall and Generals Tso’s Chicken from Wilbur. And with Stanford’s announcement that vaccination was required, hopes for a complete return — with everyone — would be possible in the fall.
As the Class of 2024 was still struggling to create a sense of community, Stanford already began to welcome the next batch of freshmen. Vivian Wang ’25 began her Stanford journey on April 7, 2021, the day that Stanford released the Regular Decision letters for the Class of 2025.
The Class of 2024 was no longer the newest group, feeling replaced and overlooked. Yet, they were excited to welcome the new class to Stanford for the upcoming year. 4 p.m. on April 7, 2021 soon came around, and the admitted frosh were quick to make GroupMe group chats. Prospective frosh were excited for a completely in-person 2021–22 school year; Stanford had reassured the Class of 2025 that the school year would likely be an entirely in-person experience. The week of April 19, Stanford hosted a completely virtual Admit Week for the prospective freshmen to learn more about what Stanford has to offer.
Following Admit Week, Vivian drove to Stanford for the first time and was in complete awe of the campus. For the remainder of her senior year, Vivian began counting down the days until graduation, just like many others around the world who were afflicted by senioritis. Vivian’s last day of high school was very anticlimactic — her high school career ended by pressing “leave meeting” on Zoom on Friday, June 11, 2021. The graduation ceremony was in-person; for the first time in 18 months, Vivian finally went back to her high school’s campus. For many high school seniors, their in-person graduation felt like a moment of normalcy — there was a sense of hope that they had made it through the worst part of the pandemic.
Back to the Classes of 2024 and 2023: after two failed attempts to live on campus, it finally happened in the summer of 2021. Both classes, optimistic after the successful spring, had the first Stanford summer camp, open to those who were taking a full course-load or on their flex term with a Stanford-funded opportunity. (The dreaded icebreaker — “Are you on full or flex?”) And it was interesting to see practically frosh dictate the campus’s culture, with parties every weekend, themes and flyers galore and just the general newbie chaos. For many, it was making up for lost time, an attempt to call a place their own that, for so long, had only existed among their words and in their minds. For others, it was socially draining and isolating, surprisingly. After all, people had craved connection, and the last thing they expected on campus, finally united peers, was a dislike for interaction. Yet, emotion toward campus was like the pandemic — its levels came in waves.
On July 1, 2021, Stanford verified an in-person fall. Though, toward the end of the summer, cases began to re-emerge and began to rise across the country, including on Stanford’s campus. Festivities came to a halt for a week when cases appeared on campus, causing a slight panic among the student population. Nevertheless, they resumed the fun the week after when students felt they were in the clear. (Spoiler alert — they weren’t. Not in the way they wanted to be, at least.) There was a weird situation with masks — Stanford reimplemented the requirement for masks indoors; however, students were already not used to wearing them due to earlier summer rules that gave vaccinated students a free pass.
Camp came to a close. Students either stayed where they were, went home or went across campus for Sophomore College or Arts Intensive for the interim; residential assistants soon arrived for training. With some complications, the two “middle-child” classes took their experience and prepped for whatever fall would look like.
For the Class of 2025, their summer was filled with completing the Approaching Stanford forms, attending online icebreaker events and meeting up with fellow local Stanford freshmen. For Vivian, her summer was the perfect time to recharge from the back-to-back Zoom classes of senior year. The Class of 2025 spent every day actively chatting in their GroupMe group chat of 1,000+ members; topics included cancelation of their AP exams, ranking their dorm options, understanding the confusing neighborhood systems and outfits to wear to the in-person New Student Orientation (NSO) in the fall. At this point, students were reassured that they would have an in-person fall quarter as Stanford had the freshmen learn more about their dorm options and fill out roommate compatibility forms.
A few weeks before NSO, Stanford began to host a few send-off parties for the incoming frosh to meet other frosh. Vivian attended the Orange County Stanford send-off party and built meaningful connections with other students. Several students with whom Vivian interacted shared they were split between missing home for the sense of familiarity and being eager to go to Stanford for the sense of adventure.
Fall ’21: We’re back, baby!
Leaves began to turn to the notable orange, red and yellow and Stanford was back, all four classes. Upperclassmen were there to make their return, for many sophomores it was their first time and chance to make Stanford home and frosh were eager to enter their first year of college. While many students enjoyed the first quarter, it was surprisingly overwhelming to be in-person, juggling social events with work, actually having to walk to class, making time to eat and finding ways to make time for friends. Once many got their routines in place, students like Kyla, who struggled during the beginning of the quarter with the familiar isolation, overcame anxieties and enjoyed the projects and community she was able to form.
Stanford frosh had their designated move-in days from Sept. 11 through Sept. 13, making them the first batch to arrive (besides students already on campus from the summer). Following move-in days, the batch of 2,126 students — Stanford’s largest class size in history — quickly transitioned into New Student Orientation (NSO), a completely in-person experience. Compared to Kyla’s frosh experience, Vivian’s experience was notably different, as she could attend in-person NSO events such as FACES. During NSO, frosh began forming friendships very quickly, friendships that would have been difficult to form through a screen. Frosh became skilled at their self-introductions, which included their name, hometown and prospective majors. On Sept. 15, the Class of 2025 enrolled in classes in preparation for the following Monday, the first day of fall quarter.
Fast forward to that day, and the Stanford campus felt vibrant as students began classes, with a majority of these classes in-person, with the requirement that they complete the daily Health Check form and wear a face covering during class. Vivian took the first three weeks to shop for classes and soon discovered her excitement for CS 106A and other popular classes such as Frosh 101. For many frosh, some notable events from fall quarter included the Stanford vs. UCLA football game, Frosh Formal, Gaieties and Big Game week. After Thanksgiving break, Stanford shared in an email on Nov. 30, 2021 that “We continue to expect in-person instruction for the winter quarter and are not currently contemplating any move to remote instruction.”
While the quarter remained clear of a massive outbreak, it wasn’t spotless. Late October and early November saw three straight weeks of rising COVID-19 cases, tipping off with an outbreak on The Row and cancelation of SigEP’s (highly anticipated) Y2K party. Post-Thanksgiving, Stanford saw 30 new cases and 27 more the following week.
As finals week rapidly approached, students took their finals and cleared their dorms. Many students returned home, with some students living just a few minutes from campus and others living on the other side of the world. Yet, half of their hearts were still on campus, as many were eager to return to campus, grateful for the experiences and eager to spend time with their friends come winter.
Now that students felt that they were on top of the world, what could go wrong now?