Socially distant interaction mandates boldness

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GRAPHIC BY TARA VASANTH / THE FLAT HAT

I recently received a very kind email from one of my favorite professors, asking for a “socially distant” walk together when I returned to campus in the coming weeks. Although I had obviously realized the effects that COVID-19 would have on my semester academically speaking, considering I had been desensitized to it with my experiences during the spring, I had yet to truly contemplate the social aspect.

Normally an outgoing person, I was accustomed to frequent study sessions, movie nights and other quotidian experiences with my friends and hallmates across the College of William and Mary. Due to the restrictions that the school has since implemented in response to the pandemic, both in terms of online courses and building access, I knew this would constitute a learning curve for all involved.

Many of these friendships were solidified during my very first semester here, whether in the confines of a physical classroom or awkward hall socials mandated by our resident assistant, whom I quickly came to love. I am lucky enough to already have these friendships in place, but the incoming class of 2024, as well as countless transfer students, sadly do not have this option, or even close substitutions to it.

The majority of them were most likely relying upon these same normal interactions to expand their social circle, and it’s not like Zoom meetings are exactly conducive to socializing, let alone making actual long-term friends. Traditional parties, sporting events and club get-togethers are simply a thing of the past at this point, even further reducing the amount of time new students will have to acclimate to campus and meet people.

“If I had any one piece of advice to give incoming students, it would be to always be adventurous and courageous, even at the risk of seeming ridiculous or making a simple mistake.” 

Of course, we all understand the absolute necessity that this pandemic situation warrants, and in no way should safety measures be disregarded for the pleasures of socializing. If anything, such ignorance would only give you less and less opportunities for interaction; no one wants to risk getting themselves and others sick, and the majority of intelligent, informed people avoid those who bypass recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as from the College.

If I had any one piece of advice to give incoming students, it would be to always be adventurous and courageous, even at the risk of seeming ridiculous or making a simple mistake. There will be fewer opportunities to make a good impression this semester, so make the most of every chance and put yourself out there.

Many of my good friends on campus are only that way due to my tenacity, though others might call it pigheadedness, and willingness to be the initiator in conversations with people I don’t know.

Even simple compliments can make the difference in turning a complete stranger into a new friend and are always a good starting point. Although you can’t really compliment someone’s smile these days, consider changing it to “I like your face mask” or “nice social distancing,” if you’re really feeling ambitious.

Really, it isn’t as hard as it seems, as long as you are willing to adapt to the situation and put yourself out there. As I mentioned in my last article on dating during quarantine, this new situation also presents us with more chances to connect deeply, by sharing our experiences and focusing more on what truly matters in life.

By keeping an optimistic outlook, and a desire to meet new people, everything will work out as deemed fit. Every student at the College is strong and capable, and I’m sure that this social obstacle, albeit an awkward and sometimes frightening one, is no different in difficulty than anything else you have faced before. I hope to see all the new faces on campus when I return, happy faces behind the mask, and feel free to ask me to coffee six feet apart if you’re feeling brave.

Email Elaine Godwin at sgodwin@email.wm.edu.