BEMIDJI -- The traditional college freshman experience -- a proxy buffer-zone before being thrown full-throttle into adulthood -- is a pivotal time in many lives.

Members of the Bemidji State University’s future class of 2024, many of whom graduated from high school in an unconventional way this spring, felt a lack of closure. They moved directly from high school courses to college without traditional milestones or saying goodbye.

These young adults faced tough choices -- whether to live at home with parents, move out to a house or apartment, defer enrollment for a semester, take a year off, or muddle through adjusting to online courses.

Below, five BSU freshmen reflect on their first week of college:

Carol Miller

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The situation surrounding COVID-19 has taken a toll on Carol Miller’s mental health, but she is embracing her new life in Bemidji and hopes to become a better version of herself.

Freshman Carol Miller came to Bemidji from Winona and will compete in track and cross-country for BSU. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)
Freshman Carol Miller came to Bemidji from Winona and will compete in track and cross-country for BSU. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)

Miller is a freshman from Winona, Minn., studying accounting. She is a member of the cross country and track teams.

After a spring and summer of feeling trapped at home due to COVID-19, she was worried she’d arrive in Bemidji and feel the same way -- but without a support system.

“(The COVID-19 closures) affected a lot," she said. "Before it happened, I was just trying to push through to the end, and once corona hit and everything just stopped, I kind of stopped mentally myself. It was really hard to push through and do everything. It really affected me mentally."

“I was trapped in one place for months on end and I wanted to get out really bad, but also I was worried that I would just be doing the same thing being trapped here, just in a different area.”

A week into her freshman year, she has made a few friends on her team. As a student-athlete, she is living in an on-campus residence hall. Miller has mixed feelings about not having a roommate -- on the one hand, as an introvert, it is nice to have extra alone time, she said, but on the other, it’s harder to meet people living alone.

Miller is glad BSU is taking the situation seriously.

“I think it’s good to have some discipline and everything like that to try to keep us on campus,” she said.

“When corona hit, I was just like, ‘I want to come here even if all of my classes are going to be online,’ I still wanted to come here and try to live a life,” Miller said. “I wanted to change and be a better version of me.”

Julia Petrich and Madi Hannah

Julia Petrich, from Bemidji, and Madi Hannah, from Brainerd, are freshmen roommates navigating increased responsibilities.

The two met on the Bemidji State freshmen Facebook group and originally planned to live together in the dorms. When those plans fell through since their classes are all online, the two along with three other students rented a house on Calihan Avenue.

Bemidji State University freshmen Madi Hannah and Julia Petrich planned to live as roommates in a dorm. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the two are renting a house with three other people. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji State University freshmen Madi Hannah and Julia Petrich planned to live as roommates in a dorm. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the two are renting a house with three other people. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)

“My mom told me she wanted me to have the full college experience and didn’t want me living at home,” Petrich said.

The two remarked about the lack of buffer dorm living provides -- both went straight from living at home with parents to unexpectedly living in their own house where they have to pay bills and plan meals.

“Living in the dorms would have made it better I think,” Hannah said. “We wouldn’t have to be growing up so fast, because now we have to pay bills and do all of that stuff on our own.”

Both students lamented the lack of traditional high school graduation milestones this spring but said having their high school classes go online was helpful in transitioning to college.

“At the same time, I’m glad that we had that experience,” Petrich said. “We got some experience with online classes right before we actually got thrown into college all online.”

Both said they were pleasantly surprised to find most of their professors to be laid back and accommodating. Hannah’s biggest worry was "just being a number" and said so far, she hasn’t felt that way.

“I know it’s only the first week, but I had expectations that the professors were going to be more strict,” Hannah said.

Laura Ricke

Laura Ricke, originally from Bagley, is pursuing a particularly difficult degree to transition online. She is a vocal musical education major and either wants to teach voice lessons or be a choir teacher when she graduates.

Ricke is also living in an off-campus house after deciding not to live in the dorms. “It was either stay home or rent a house,” she said. “It does seem a bit more grown-upish. But so far it had been going well.”

Ricke said she is ultimately optimistic about her first year.

She initially toyed with the idea of taking a year off before beginning school, due to the online classes, but didn't since she couldn’t travel or work many of the jobs she would’ve wanted to during a gap year.

“It just sort of seemed like a waste of time to take a year or a semester off,” she said. “Because I don’t really know what I would do besides school right now.”

So, she opted to press on.

Ricke has one in-person class on her schedule -- voice lessons. Currently, her professor is quarantining, so she has not actually attended yet, but will in a week or so if the professor is cleared to teach.

“I obviously expected in-person classes and making friends,” she said. “I think once I get started with music lessons in person I’ll meet a few more people. But it’s very different than I expected.”

Colton Dauksavage

While not at all how he pictured his freshman year would look, Dauksavage is having a great time nonetheless. Right before his interview, he had spontaneously jumped into Lake Bemidji with friends from his dorm.

The social studies education major is from East Grand Forks, Minn., and is a member of the BSU baseball team.

Freshman Colton Dauksavage plans to play baseball for Bemidji State University. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)
Freshman Colton Dauksavage plans to play baseball for Bemidji State University. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)

Dauksavage is not letting the restrictions get in the way of meeting people, and has already managed to make friends with the other students on his Tamarack Hall dorm floor.

The lack of students in dorms isn’t a problem for him.

“It’s kind of nice, you don’t have to fight for bathroom space,” he said. “The hallway is pretty quiet most of the time.”

The shift from high school to college came as a bit of a shock.

“It was just really weird because it felt like I had eight months of summer vacation, and all of a sudden I was right back into school,” he said. “I definitely was not ready for that.”

So far his classes have been going well, he said, but he feels he would learn better in an in-person setting.

“It’s not something I want to get used to, but it’ll work for now,” he said. “I’m not going to complain, it hasn’t been bad, but it’s definitely not what I was expecting when I was ready for college.”