By Luke Fitzgerald
In August of 2021, I returned to my second year of college transformed into a sophomore the moment I stepped onto campus. No longer a green freshman, I knew what to expect. I knew where to find my classes and what to eat in the cafeteria.
Nonetheless, my second year was in many ways a year of firsts. It began with my first experience of the Master’s cup. As a wing assistant, I came a couple of weeks early to help welcome the incoming class for the fall. During that week of welcome, I wondered what I would have thought a year ago if I had gone through the same beginning to my college years.
Twelve months earlier, I was arriving at this new, small university in Santa Clarita with my whole family in our red minivan. As we passed by the MacArthur center, I looked out of the front window and saw a few smiling people waving homemade signs, cheering, and jumping up and down. My dad started shouting too and honked the horn.
We were directed to check in at the parking lot below Dixon and Sweazy and we waited in line to have our temperature checked while answering questions about any symptoms we were having. I got a nametag and a bag of stickers, shirts, and stuff. Then it was off to check in at the dorms, lower back of Slight Hall. The two rooms at the end of our wing were reserved for people who caught Covid. They were needed more than once.
Our week of welcome was quiet. We went on a scavenger hunt one day, another day it was Ventura beach. There were a few orientation talks and places to be and people to see. It came and went, and I don’t remember much about it except that I met people for the first time whom I now couldn’t imagine life without.
Bigger, louder, a lot more people. Even though the campus was the same size, it seemed like there was so much more happening and so much more to do at the start of this year. Would I have been overwhelmed if I had come in a year later? Last year everything seemed so simple. Get up, go to breakfast, (don’t forget your mask) and come back with a tray of hot food that you eat while watching your eight AM class. You play with your virtual background to keep yourself entertained but don’t turn it off. Your roommates like to take showers in the morning and the class doesn’t need to see shirtless men behind you.
But this year, I landed on campus and didn’t take a breath before taking off again for a luau welcome party to see so many smiling faces that I hadn’t seen in three months. It was a packed week, but it set the tone for the whole year. The schedule was stuffed from end to end with events. Traveling to the beach and Downtown LA and eating Italian food in Ojai. And then there was the actual week of welcome. We didn’t meet under the tent this time, but in the gym full of lights and music and excitement. Every day, the cafeteria was stuffed with hungry, joyful people. It always made me so happy to hear forty or fifty excited conversations happening at the same time.
At the beginning of last year, when we didn’t take our meals to our rooms, we sat outside the empty cafeteria, eating out of plastic trays with plastic forks and plastic glass between us. If anyone wanted to speak, they had to shout or stand up and pour out their germs over the dividers. These were the cause of many a sarcastic comment. Yet the cafeteria ended up being my favorite place on campus during my first semester and it has only gotten better. I’ve heard countless testimonies, and constantly been encouraged with spiritual truth.
Life this year in many ways is the same, but more saturated. Last year, I was drinking from a firehose, this year, I am drinking from a geyser.