As everyone has noticed by now, this semester is a little different than previous years. Most professors don’t have in-person office hours, everyone’s faces are hidden behind masks, and there are plastic dividers in every room. For returning students who know what the school was like pre-COVID, this is all very strange, slightly irritating. The classroom settings aren’t the only things that changed due to COVID this year, though. New student orientation also had to be altered to adapt to the current restrictions.
This year, Rocky welcomed just under 300 new students, freshmen, and transfers, to campus. In past years, there was a camping trip or city excursion due to the new guidelines to get off campus and explore all Billings and great Montana outdoors have to offer. These off-campus trips showed the new students how amazing the Rocky community is and even though these excursions were canceled, the feeling of comradery between the community and students did not.
There were several events planned for orientation that followed the new health code guidelines. These included a magician named Eric Jones, firepits, and ice cream on the walkway. There was also a welcome festival for returning students and new students to mingle before the school year started.
The Dean of Students, Brad Nason, emphasized the importance of not only wearing masks at all times but also social distancing. In order to make these regulations a little easier to follow, most of the events were outside under the tents and all the meals were served in a grab-and-go style. The opening ceremony that is usually held in the gym was moved onto the football field where hula hoops were placed across the field to ensure socially distanced seating.
When I asked Samantha Haan about the new student orientation she explained that on Sunday night after all the orientation activities were over she “felt an overwhelming sense of happiness that we accomplished so much with the restrictions” and that the participation from almost all the students showed that the school might be able to “survive through a global pandemic”. This feeling of collaboration and friendship is what the Rocky community revolves around and is what so many new students fall in love with in the first place.
As the school year begins again, it is important to remember that even though this semester is crazy and different, we still need to display the same amount of collaboration and friendship to our fellow students. This year’s freshmen have it extra difficult to adapt to the new college environment. I believe that it is our responsibility as returning students to show them that even though times are tough, the Rocky community is still as close as ever, even 6 feet apart.