Seventy-four seniors will graduate at the end of this semester as members of the Class of 2022E. This year’s E class is one of the largest in the college’s history, largely owing to the pandemic, which led many in the Class of 2021 to delay their final semesters in hopes of being able to later spend them on campus.
The graduation ceremony for the Class of 2022E will be held at Johnson Chapel on Saturday, Dec. 11. It will feature remarks from President Biddy Martin, as well as the distribution of tassels and Conway Canes. A reception for graduating seniors and their vaccinated guests will follow in the Science Center Living Room.
In advance of their graduation, The Student sat down with seven seniors to hear about their experiences over the past semesters, as well as reflections on the fast-approaching end to their time at Amherst.
Daniel Choe ’22E is one of just three current seniors who took the Spring 2020 semester off, although it was not by choice. Originally planning to study abroad in Korea during his junior spring, Choe ended up having to stay home the whole semester after the program was canceled due to Covid, and Add-Drop Period had already passed at Amherst. “I had no choice but to take a semester off,” he said.
As Summer 2020 progressed and the pandemic showed no signs of dissolving, the college made the decision to allow just a limited number of students back on campus for the fall. Under the priority system that was implemented, first-semester seniors like Choe who had not studied abroad the previous year were not invited back. While Choe was “heartbroken” at the decision, he enrolled in the semester anyway, explaining that he “really missed being a student.”
Many of his classmates opted not to, though. Several cited not wanting to have to study remotely as their main reason for doing so. “I didn't have the option of being on campus because I hadn't studied abroad either semester [the previous year], and I just decided I didn’t want to do remote school,” said Martin Glusker ’22E. He started looking around for jobs and solidified his decision to take time off after securing an opportunity to work as a field organizer in a congressional race.
Facing the same choice between taking remote classes at home and taking the semester off, Robin Kong ’22E decided that taking time off would allow her to figure out her career interests, particularly her interest in pursuing medical research more seriously. Unable to find any research opportunities in the U.S., Kong ended up spending the semester working in a research lab in Korea. “I thought that this would also serve as a study abroad experience as well,” she recounted. “I just wanted to figure myself out, [and] that just seemed much more compelling than Zoom classes.”
For many, enrolling in the semester remotely would have also meant forgoing some of the most meaningful aspects of their Amherst experience. Emma Ratshin ’22E relayed that she had taken the fall semester off to increase the chance that she could perform the thesis for her theater major in person. Having returned to campus in the spring, Ratshin said it was “really sad” that semester to not be able to do the “extracurriculars that have made my experience here so good — theater and music.”
Lily Worden ’22E, a member of the women’s golf team, believes that many student athletes decided to take the fall off for analogous reasons, noting that it’s partly why she would eventually take the following spring off.
“I think a lot of people’s Amherst experience is centered on their athletic experience,” she said. “They're spending so much time with their teammates who[m] they love and they go through all these challenges with. Having a semester at Amherst that doesn't involve competing … I think a lot of people didn't want that. Sports are just such a big part of their life because of the community that it brings that they wanted another chance to have that.”
In taking the semester off, some students were able to recreate their own communities away from campus. Eli Quastler ’22E decided jointly with a group of his friends to take the fall off after realizing that they might not have been able to all be on campus together. They rented out a house in Virginia — a “kind of random” choice, said Quastler, since none of them were from Virginia — where he spent the semester exploring the area, working on his thesis in music composition and other personal projects, and “just taking some time to recharge.”
Few seniors were prepared for the campus they returned to in the spring, however, with several reporting the transition to be challenging in many regards. “It was rough, man!” exclaimed Kong. “It was so rough, because we start every year with the fall semester, [when there’s] the foliage and the festivities and the weather's nice. To start off my first semester of my senior year during [the comparably dreary spring semester], that was really difficult for me.”
Isolation amplified the dreariness for many, who were confined to a campus with largely remote classes and deadened social activity. For Jake Montes-Adams ’22E, who had taken the fall off after deciding that neither studying remotely nor flying to Amherst from their home in California would be good for them, the monotony of the Covid bubble left them feeling “completely adrift,” taking a toll on their mental health and academic performance. “It felt like every day was exactly the same,” they said. “Every day I woke up, and was stressed about my schoolwork, and procrastinated [on] my schoolwork, and then went to bed.”
Having been on campus in the fall, Worden said she “couldn't do another pandemic semester — or at least, not the same pandemic semester.” She decided to stay home in the spring, doing some work for her dad and working a retail job on the side. “That's not how I wanted to spend my last semester at Amherst.”
Adding to the disorientation was the experience of feeling out of step with many of their peers. “I think being an E just puts everything in limbo,” said Kong. “The people I started Amherst with — they were getting ready to leave, but I was settling in, in a way. The year below me, they didn't have theses to worry about, whereas I was starting my thesis … My peers were thinking about jobs, and I was thinking about doing my next physics homework.”
“All of my friends who were Class of ’21 [and] had not taken time off were gearing up for graduation,” echoed Montes-Adams. “I had to watch them go through that and sort of feel it with them, but with the knowledge that I wasn't done yet and I had another semester left to go.”
Such feelings surfaced for many E graduates during the commencement ceremony itself in May, which members of the Class of 2022E were given the choice to participate in. “Most of the people around me were having all the feelings of being totally done, whereas I was like, ‘Okay, I'm coming back next year,’” said Quastler on his experience walking in the ceremony. “So it was a little bit fake in that way.”
Quastler viewed his situation positively, however, remarking that it felt like “the best of both worlds” getting to celebrate the end of the year and also knowing that he didn’t have to “say goodbye to the campus” just yet. He commented on the historic size of this year’s E class as mitigating the challenges of being an E graduate. “When I tell people, ‘Oh, I'm a second semester senior,’ they don't ask any questions, they just get it,” he said. “I feel very much like I'm in good company.”
Coming back to a fully in-person campus this semester, many seniors said that with loosened Covid restrictions, things mostly — in Quastler’s words — “feel like the old days” again. Having one last semester on a mostly normal campus has also made the challenges of graduating late worth it, said Ratshin, who performed her theater thesis, “Bad Jews” by Joshua Harmon, in October. “Being able to do my thesis in person without masks just made it all worth it. I’m really glad that I took that time off, even though it did push my plans a little bit.”
Montes-Adams similarly expressed gratitude for getting to have “another taste of fairly normal college life before leaving.”
“I feel like if I had graduated last semester, it would have felt like college ended at this one point and then there is this sort of facsimile college that I attended for another year after that that was sort of a faux representation of the real thing,” they said. “I would have missed feeling like I'm actually on campus and part of the community again.”
Serving this semester as the president of Marsh Arts House, which was designated isolation housing last semester, Montes-Adams has taken an active part in building a renewed sense of community on campus this semester. “Nobody was living in Marsh last year, so those of us who got a place in Marsh House this semester sort of came to a house that had no leadership,” they explained. “I was one of only two students who had lived in Marsh House before, so it just kind of fell on my shoulders to take the position and be like, ‘Alright, let's figure it out.’”
“I think we've been relatively successful,” they continued, stating that their goal was to bring back Marsh’s “grassroots-level” contributions to artistic life on campus. “Coffee Haus has been super successful this semester — we’ve had really packed houses.”
Ratshin also spoke about the process of reviving extracurriculars on campus after a year of inactivity from her experience co-business managing The Zumbyes acapella group this semester. “Last year, we didn't perform at all — no acapella group really performed,” she said. “A lot of things that we were invited to yearly are just kind of getting back on their feet now, [so] I've also been working with the other business manager to get our name back in this rotation of performances.”
For Choe, who ended up completing both semesters remotely last year, immersing himself in The DQ acapella group again this semester has been a fulfilling way to reconnect with a campus that felt a bit foreign upon his return. “When I first stepped foot on campus and I realized that I'd missed two years of Amherst students, I kind of just felt like this was not my Amherst anymore,” he reflected. “I didn't really recognize anyone, and there were a lot of little things, especially Covid restrictions, that I wasn't used to.”
In Worden’s opinion, the “good old days” remain just that — in the past. She expressed disappointment at the continuing lack of connection within the campus community, although she acknowledged that things have gotten a little bit better. “It's awkward,” she said. “It’s awkward trying to get back to normal life after this pandemic, and I think it's particularly challenging for people who were here before the pandemic. There's kind of this feeling that people are just ready to finish, and that’s never been Amherst.”
Certainly, several seniors admitted to eagerly anticipating an end to the grind of theses and homework and essays and readings. But feelings surrounding graduation were overall rather ambivalent.
“There’s a part of me that feels like, ‘How am I graduating, there's no way that it's my turn to graduate yet,’” said Montes-Adams. “But there's another part of me that feels like I’ve been here for a long time, and I'm kind of sick of it. There's definitely two sides to it.”
“It’s bittersweet,” added Kong. “There have been moments during the semester where I’m like, ‘I’m so ready to get out,’ and then there are other days where I'm like, ‘Oh my gosh, that was such a good day. I can't believe I'm leaving.’ Little moments like I'm looking outside, and I notice details about the campus, and I'll be like, ‘Damn, I go to this school.’”
A flutist in the Amherst Symphony Orchestra, she performed her senior concerto solo at the orchestra’s concert on Dec. 4, describing the experience as “surreal.”
“As soon as I played my last note, I could feel my eyes start to water because I was just like, ‘Oh shoot, I'm done,’ like this is it — this is the last time I'll ever play flute at Amherst,” she said. “I feel like this semester was a very good semester, and it felt bittersweet in the sense that I'm leaving just when Amherst started feeling good again.”
Choe said he didn’t expect graduation to come so fast, “even though, you know, I took longer than most.”
“After being off campus a few semesters, I just don't necessarily feel ready for the next step,” he said. “There's still a little bit of sadness about … goals that might have been lofty coming in [that have fallen flat]. But I’m trying to remind myself that this is not the end.”
Now that it is them leaving while everyone else will be coming back, feelings of disorientation persist in the experiences of many members of the graduating class. Off-cycle for jobs as well, many will have to wait until the spring to figure out their next destination. But the experience of the past few semesters has taught them that “you gotta roll with the punches,” as Glusker put it.
“Taking a semester off, I’ve learned to be more comfortable with unexpected things,” reflected Kong. “I realized that every moment has something to offer, [that] there really is something to take away from whatever it is that I experience, even if it doesn't look like the most common route.”
Ratshin marveled at how “my life just kind of took a different turn. When we were being sent home, I don’t think I realized how different my life would be afterwards. I took a semester off, and that was never in the cards. [But] I got experiences that I would have never gotten otherwise.”
“It's been pretty difficult,” concluded Montes-Adams. “But I guess I've also learned that those seemingly impossibly difficult things are not going to prevent me from going forward in life and accomplishing things.”