From Three Days in, to 10 Days Out: Class of ‘24 Reflects on Their First Year

The author, Dallas senior Juan G. Rodriguez, holds a mask from his first year at Albion in his hand as he throws his graduation cap adorned with a 2024 tassel. These masks were given to first-years as they moved into their dorms in the fall of 2020 (Photo illustration by Katherine Simpkins).

As of Jan. 29, there are 387 seniors on campus. Many of these students, upon their arrival to campus, spent their first three days in quarantine. These students were part of the 596 new students that comprised the incoming class that year, according to an email from July 17, 2020, from Student Development. 

As of the time of publication, current seniors are 10 days away from graduation.

The 2020 First-Year Experience: The Module System

According to a few current seniors, their first-year experience was a difficult one. 

For Lansing senior Sheridan Leinbach, the experience was reminiscent of high school.

“It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting, for college. It was a lot more similar to high school than I was expecting because – no one else on campus knows what this is – but we did a module system,” Leinbach said. 

According to an archived version of the Albion College Website, the module system split a semester into two modules, where two and a quarter units were taught over the course of seven weeks – a shift from the standard four and half units for 14 weeks students know today.

“On top of learning how to do college, we were learning how to do college in COVID,” Madeline Manion, Holly senior, said via a survey posted on Albion Today. 

Coldwater senior Alison Harvey said everything within the module system “was so condensed, and we were moving so quickly. Even in an online format, that was strange.” Harvey said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘If this is what college looks like, I don’t know if I can do it.’” 

Harvey, acknowledging her first year, said she had no desire to endure a system similar to the module system, but the experience had fostered a sense of resiliency.

“Well, I made it through that, so I can make it through something else,” Harvey said. 

Why People Stayed: Community

Despite the challenges, some students found themselves staying because of a sense of community and the small school environment. For Leinbach, it was Albion College’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that gave her confidence.

“That ability of Albion to transition quickly with everything happening and still have us come to campus and stay safe, that was it,” Leinbach said in reference to why she stayed.

Leinbach added that being able to meet her professors and her now-closest friends solidified her decision to stay. For her, a sense of community and belonging was what drew her into Albion originally.

“The first time I stepped on campus – like, an official tour – I just felt that sense of belonging and community and this was somewhere I could grow,” Leinbach said. “All the tours I had, my tour guides knew people and they were waving and they were talking, even if they didn’t know them super well.”

Manion acknowledged the atmosphere of the campus, stating that Albion “felt like home to me when I visited because of the small campus and friendly people I met.”

For some, like Wayland senior Nathan Ward, being in quarantine wasn’t enough for him to leave. Ward said he had so much hope of “what Albion could be” because he had fun during lockdown. 

“And that sounds so weird, but you take for granted the time where you’re just chilling with your roommate, who’s kinda like your best friend at the time,” Ward said.

This sentiment is why Ward returned to Albion for his sophomore year. 

“Once we got past the giant pandemic and we kinda returned a little bit to normalcy, Albion was such a pleasant place; the campus is small enough that you kinda build connections with so many different people,” Ward said.

For Harvey, the small environment at Albion was what appealed to her.

“It was nice coming from a smaller high school and coming into something also pretty small,” Harvey said. “Yes, there were other schools out there, there were other places to go, but I felt like I wanted that small environment.”

Harvey, who is part of the theatre department, said her favorite part about being in theatre on campus has been the family aspect.

“I think a lot of it is like the faculty. It’s the big family that we are,” Harvey said. “There’s theatre majors, but we allow people of any major, any minor, so I get to meet a lot of different types of people and that’s been really fun.”

Many students, however, decided not to return.

Ward said that “COVID was hard for everyone, in different ways.” 

“I think a lot of us were coming off losing the promised (high school) senior year that we’d all been waiting for,” Ward said. “I don’t know how to describe it any other way than like taking a group of energized people and then you put them all in a very small space and tell them to sit still.”


For those who remained in the aftermath of the 2020-2021 academic year, there came the task of rebuilding organizations and traditions around campus.

“I think junior and senior year is where it really hit,” Leinbach said. “I think (the campus) got more and more normal, but it really showed what we’d missed that freshman year.”

According to Leinbach, it’s been hard work having to elect new senators and bring back activities Student Senate previously held. 

“If you’re passionate enough about something, you’ll do it,” Leinbach said. “People are always asking like ‘Why are you doing all this?’ and I’m like ‘Well if I wasn’t passionate about Albion and I didn’t see the future of it, I wouldn’t be in.’ And that’s something that will carry well beyond my four years physically here.”

Leinbach added that while the experience of the pandemic thrust the class of 2024 into adulthood, “if I made it through that, there’s not much I can’t do.”

Harvey said that, while they hope incoming first-year students’ experiences look more “normal,” the four years will still be very challenging.  

“It’s important to know that you can do this, that you have to find those people you can talk to and confide in and express when you’re struggling,” Harvey said. “Finding your place, finding your people, that’s gonna be super super important.”

Ward said that first years should consider putting themselves out there and meeting new people.

“This is the time to do it. Never in your life will you have another experience where you’re in a single location with a thousand students who are all your age,” Ward said. “Some of the best people that I know on this campus, or who were on this campus, are people I had one random conversation with in class, and I’m gonna keep in touch with them for the rest of my life.”

Katherine Simpkins also contributed to this story.

About Juan G. Rodriguez 45 Articles
Juan G. Rodriguez is a senior sharing his time between Dallas and East Texas. He is majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. As an individual with two pencil leads in his left knee, writing seems to be the only career that Juan is capable of. Contact Juan via

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