With high hopes and bulk supplies of hand sanitizer, the Class of 2024 arrived at Washington University in St. Louis Sept. 4-6.
“This is what we’ve all been waiting for,” said Nick Cloney, an Arts & Sciences student from Boston. “It may not be what we expected. But even in this altered world, we can still have those integral first-year experiences.”
First-year students typically arrive in mid-August for Bear Beginnings orientation. This year, however, the COVID-19 crisis prompted university leaders to push back the start of the school year so staff could ramp up COVID-19 testing, create safe dining protocols, install educational technology and develop other procedures to improve health outcomes for students and employees.
That work paid off during the weekend, said Rob Wild, interim vice chancellor for student affairs. Arriving students received their first of biweekly COVID-19 screenings using the new saliva test developed by School of Medicine researchers. Students and families then proceeded to the South 40, where professional movers moved them into single rooms.
“I could not be more proud of our students and families for working with us on our modified move-in process this year,” Wild said. “Everyone demonstrated an incredible amount of patience and understanding with us, and for that we are grateful. We know this will be a challenging fall semester, but it is exciting to be able to welcome the Class of 2024 — both in person and virtually — to our WashU family for the 2020-21 academic year.”
Despite the COVID crisis, the Class of 2024 is about the same size as its predecessors. A total of 1,807 students enrolled, though approximately 100 students have deferred their enrollment for the fall 2021. About 100 students will start their first year remotely.
The Class of 2024 was chosen from a field of 27,950 applicants and represents 20 countries and 49 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Sixteen percent are Pell Grant-eligible, 10% are first-generation and 5% are eligible for the new WashU Pledge scholarship, a major initiative of Chancellor Andrew D. Martin, which provides a free undergraduate education to admitted Missouri and southern Illinois students who are Pell Grant-eligible or from families with annual incomes of $75,000 or less. Twenty-seven percent of the class is Asian, 11% is Hispanic, 9% is Black and 6% percent is international. The middle 50% ACT range was 33-35; the middle 50% SAT range was 1480-1560.
In addition to being talented and diverse, the Class of 2024 also is well-practiced at finding the bright side. Take Tanner Smith, an Arts & Sciences student from Cape Girardeau, Mo. Sure, he would have liked a roommate. But, wow, look at the extra space in his room.
“I moved the extra bed and made a little TV corner for myself,” Smith said. “I’m just excited to start meeting my classmates and explore campus and begin the habits of my adult life, like doing laundry.”
Andrew Ortiz, a McKelvey School of Engineering student from Chicago, also is prepared to make the best of remote classes and grab-and-go meals. He has set up a “work desk” for studying and a “leisure desk” for video games.
“I can’t wait,” Ortiz said. “I don’t know if I′m nervous or excited, but I′m ready to get to work.”
His mother, Gloria Ortiz, admires the fearlessness of a generation that was born in the wake of 9/11, grew up during the Great Recession and lost their high school senior year to a deadly pandemic.
“I asked him, ‘Are you sure you want to go away?’ and he was determined,” Gloria Ortiz said.
She pulled out her phone and showed a picture of a masked Ortiz after his COVID test. He’s holding up his screening checklist and a safety kit with a complimentary thermometer.
“This is the fourth child we’ve taken to college, and we always take a picture,” Gloria Ortiz said. “We’ve never had one like this.”
Parents Thurman and Jan Brooks of St. Louis also felt that potent mix of anxiety and pride dropping off their daughter Jessica, an Arts & Sciences student and a member of the women’s basketball team. They had initially agreed that their daughter would stay home and drive to campus when needed, but changed their minds after learning more about the university’s safety measures.
“Ultimately, we knew that this is where she will thrive and make a difference,” Thurman Brooks said.
Jessica’s parents surprised their daughter with the news via a letter tucked inside her St. Louis Bread Co. bag.
“I was grabbing my bagel and found the note from my dad,” she recalled. “It said, ‘Can’t wait for you to be a Bear … on campus.’ I was like, ‘Wait, are we doing this?’ I couldn’t believe it. And now here I am.”