Class of COVID-19: My thoughts on becoming a Fresher at Covid Cambridge

I’m so grateful for my Cambridge place I’m willing to get swabbed on the weekly for it.

For most of my teenage life I thought I would apply to Oxford for PPE (I was that person) but when I discovered the HSPS course at Cambridge and realised the thought of writing a Philosophy essay made me want to leave the country, I of course made the switch. Going to Cambridge became my new-found dream: the beautiful buildings, punting on the river, and most of all having a great time with my new university friends at my college, course and at societies. I got through my interviews after several breakdowns, tears and mugs of coffee (including the one I spilt on my shirt on interview day).When I got my offer, I refused to open the email for several hours, but fortunately found myself another step closer to my dream.

But of course, 2020 had other plans. Out of all the years to start university, it couldn’t get much worse than this one.

The dream was achieved, but it looked like 2020 had other plans… (image credit: Genevieve Holl-Allen)

In a few short months, the whole world transformed before my eyes. In February I was in France to practise for my French A-Level, and a month later there were no A-Levels. I was making my Economics notes the moment the announcement came that exams were cancelled – and the notes stayed on my desk for a few days like a ghost of an alternate timeline without coronavirus. In the mess of a hurried school leavers, confusion around exam results and anxiety over university admissions, my year went into lockdown for what would be a few long months and a missed summer that should have been the best summer of our lives.

Results Day concerns aside, the university gave us a regular stream of vague emails assuring us they were doing everything possible to keep us safe upon our arrival at Cambridge. One of the more notable announcements included the leaked news that all lectures were to be online for the upcoming year. This was a heavy disappointment and a bigger step than many other universities had taken at the time – and it made the national news before the university emailed us to inform us. Not being able to have the essential university experience of lectures for a whole year is odd, but it is at least a comfort that supervisions are still planned to go ahead, at least at my college.

I got my necessary A-Level results despite the chaos that ensued from the cursed algorithm, and was happy to see that the people who had at first lost out to the government’s failed system were allowed back in. The reality seeped in – I was going to Cambridge.

My interviews had been quite late in the afternoon, which meant I’d passed the day in the JCR until then, chatting with people from a variety of backgrounds. Knowing that this year, these social spaces would be closed, and the life would be seeped out of Freshers no matter what was a crushing disappointment. The Freshers Fair and the social events that I’d looked forward to would never come back. When the pandemic first hit, I had hopes that all would be back to normal before October, but amid the rising number of cases “back to normal” still seems a distant dream.

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Of course, nothing is more important than safety, and the measures the university is taking are all necessary to protect all students and staff. The government seems intent on prioritising the economy over people, banning family visits to houses but encouraging them to meet in a restaurant. They blame young people for spreading the virus when their own advisors disregard the rules. The government disarray may mean we are headed to a second wave in which we are shut inside our university rooms.

It was disappointing to be the class that left 7 years of school with two days’ notice, and the class that couldn’t get the welcome to university that we deserved, but as someone who is at higher risk of the virus, it’s infinitely more important that we help people stay safe and we support those that are most affected by the pandemic, inevitably the working class and ethnic minorities. In any case, I’m still excited to meet new people, study my favourite subject and move to the best university in the world in October, and I am glad that I’m at least able to do that.

Feature image credit: Safa Al-Azami