Here’s How I Remember It

The Class of 2024 arrived at Notre Dame under COVID restrictions, but the difficulties that shaped our first impressions of college life did not diminish the experience.

Author: José Sánchez Córdova ’24

Jose Sanchez Cordova stands in the Observer newspaper office The author in his element at The Observer. Matt Cashore ’94

An illustration by Mike Reddy with a copy of the Observer, a coffee and croissant, a bull riding image and a Bad Bunny record.
Illustrations by Mike Reddy

I “graduated” from high school in my pajamas, watching from my couch via Facebook Live.

My high school put together a graduation Mass for us during those early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Effectively, it needed a way to declare us graduated so my classmates and I could continue our studies in college if we wanted to.

Later that day, I cut a cake with my closest family members. We celebrated as best we could.

Looking back, it was all quite bleak, except for one thing.

My at-home graduation was May 28, 2020. Just two days before, Notre Dame’s president, Father John Jenkins, CSC, ’76, ’78M.A., penned a term-defining op-ed in The New York Times explaining his decision to reopen Notre Dame for in-person classes the following August.

Months before I would show up for my first college classes, Notre Dame was for me the light at the end of the masked-up, socially distant, hand-sanitized tunnel that was the COVID-19 lockdown.

That’s why I’m always struck by the notion that my Class of 2024 is somehow the “Class of COVID.” In my view, we aren’t. Not even a little bit.

Being part of the Class of 2024 is a blessing. I had the chance to join the Notre Dame community in the middle of a very difficult time. I was in it together with everyone on campus — instead of alone back home in my bedroom, known by my professors and classmates only through Zoom sessions.

There’s no denying the pandemic had a big impact on my freshman year. I didn’t know what many of my classmates looked like from the nose down. I had dinner with my new friends in tents on North and South quads. I was quarantined just a few weeks after I arrived.

Even so, when I think about my first year, I don’t think of Plexiglas or the plastic utensils in the dining hall. I don’t think about the face masks or the two empty seats to my right in the back row of my first French class in DeBartolo.

I can’t speak for my fellow graduates, but those things are not what defined freshman year for me.

Instead, my memories are marked by many of the same things that freshmen before us experienced, starting with the friends I made, who have since become the center of my four years on campus. We, too, faced the customary challenges of building a new life and adjusting to a place full of unknowns.

Of course, I’ll never forget rushing the field in Notre Dame Stadium after the Irish beat No. 1 Clemson in double overtime that first November.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t annoyed by the University’s COVID precautions. Rather, I was grateful.

An illustration by Mike Reddy with a slice of cake with the word Congrats in cursive above a face mask.

Most of my best friends from high school spent their freshman year taking classes online from their homes in Puerto Rico. I spent mine in South Bend, getting to know new people and discovering who I would be in this new stage of my life. I felt lucky to be at Notre Dame.

I didn’t even know what I was missing at that time. I had never tailgated before or felt the energy of a full football stadium. I didn’t miss playing intramurals or going to full-fledged college parties. I just didn’t know any better.

Notre Dame was what I knew it to be when I arrived in August 2020, and it only got better from there. It was a trying start, but the University has made an immeasurably positive impact on my life, even if I didn’t get four “normal” years. I wouldn’t change a single thing about them.

I found my passion in The Observer office in the basement of South Dining Hall, reporting on everything from fencing to Bad Bunny to the new Raclin Murphy Museum of Art. I learned French and got to spend a semester studying in Paris, practicing the language and making memories I’ll never forget. I met friends I’ll keep for the rest of my life. And I had so, so much fun doing it.

This University put me on the path I’m on today. It has molded what I care about and what I’ll fight for in my life. The difficulties we all went through during COVID are a big part of that.

That’s why I push back on lamentations about the impact of the pandemic on my college experience. It was a part of what we went through at Notre Dame, yes.

But it doesn’t define us. We are so much more than that.

José Sánchez Córdova, a former intern for this magazine, will soon be a reporter for The Dallas Morning News. From Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, he majored in French and political science and minored in journalism.