To the Class of 2024: welcome. I know this might not be the freshman year you had in mind, but your resilience in the face of unexpected obstacles is nothing short of awe-inspiring. I mean, look at you. You’re missing out on so many joyous occasions, like orientation, in-person shopping period, and breathing the same air as former Dean of the College Maud Mandel. And you’re taking it all in stride. Hats off to you!
I don’t doubt that this is hard. You spend your whole life building college up in your head, imagining how grand and exhilarating it will be when you step onto those hallowed, ivy-covered grounds of Brown University. But then you get here. And, in a turn of events that literally no one could have predicted, you’re not allowed to go to that first grimy crew party, or make small talk with strangers in the omelet line at the Ratty, or have the chance — however small — that you might cross paths with Dean Maud S. Mandel at any given moment. Those days are gone. Now you have Zoom get-togethers, take-out breakfast bags, and nothing besides the bitter taste left behind by the fact that Maud left us for Williams. Williams. Let that sink in.
As a senior, I can only tell you what Brown used to be like. Oh, you have no idea how wonderful it was! I would sit in the Ratty for hours at a time, running into everyone I knew and studying to the comforting buzz of chatter around me. I took spontaneous trips to Boston and New York just because I could. I even had a front row ticket to see Joe Biden speak at the Pizzitola, years before he became our 46th president. And, when I had an academic dilemma of particular concern, I pressed send on an email to Maud Mandel. It was such a rush. Try to replicate that feeling in these weird, unprecedented times. You can’t. You just fucking can’t.
It bears repeating that this freshman class is unlike any that have preceded it. Here’s why: they are ushering in a new generation of Brown students. A generation that won’t have that awkward hook-up with their unit-mate during the first week of school. A generation that won’t have surprise middle-of-the-night initiations for the a cappella groups they get into. A generation for whom Maud Mandel isn’t even a memory. And that’s something you can never get back.
Keep moving forward, freshmen. That’s all you can do. And Maud, if you’re reading this, we miss you so much. Please come back. Please.