Kyle Burgess ’21
As an unforgettable academic year draws to a close, the class of 2021 begins the bittersweet process of both opening an exciting new chapter in their lives as college graduates and closing the final chapter in their college careers.
While this process is already difficult enough to manage on its own, seniors have also seen their special year overshadowed by the continued frustrations brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many traditions such as the Senior Ring Weekend formal dance and 2021 nights to graduation were scrapped from the schedule as social distancing protocols prevented the possibility for seniors to celebrate themselves and their classmates all together.
However, many seniors have reflected on the past year as a gift which allowed them to spend their final year in Friartown, on campus with their peers.
Such was the case for Kevin Schwalm ’21 as he began his Board of Programmers presidency during one of the strangest years this campus has seen. Schwalm originally found PC through older classmates in high school, and they succeeded in convincing him to tour the school and discover its close-knit community atmosphere; the rest was history.
Schwalm rose through the ranks to become president of BOP this year, and the realities of social distancing required him and other members to think outside the box. “COVID certainly affected the responsibilities [of BOP] because we always had to have back-up plans in case the events had to be changed to a virtual format. It also changed the types of events we held because we had to get creative with our programming since some of the events we traditionally do in person were not possible due to COVID so we had to come up with alternatives the students would still enjoy.”
Despite these setbacks, Schwalm and his fellow “BOP-pers” were able to host a number of events for their classmates to enjoy. Schwalm’s favorite memory from this year was hosting Clam Jam, the first large-scale and in-person event that BOP has hosted since last year’s Black and White Ball. “I found it to be rewarding because it felt as though there was a sense of normalcy after such a bizarre few months with COVID and all the virtual programming,” Schwalm explained.
Other senior leaders have also adapted well to the imposed COVID-19 regulations. Cameron McCauley ’21 served as the president of Campus Ministry this year, having made a connection with Fr. Peter Martyr, O.P., during her freshman year, who encouraged her to apply for a leadership position.
In addition to organizing retreats and meeting information and attending other clubs’ meetings to share announcements, McCauley also met with other Camp Min leaders to gauge the needs of the student body that they could address. Much of these responsibilities became virtual this year, as interactions with other student leaders were difficult to have in person.
However, McCauley described the joy she felt in being able to lead Campus Ministry this year despite the virtual makeover. “The most rewarding aspect of this year was at the very end of my position; we had a close-out celebration for CML and the lower classmen gave the seniors affirmations and graduation cords,” she explained. “Hearing that our leaders had a great year and were excited for what’s to come granted me some peace because the year had been so challenging, and it was comforting to know they felt supported and still enjoyed their ministries despite the circumstances.”
Many other seniors have also come to embrace the unexpected over the past year. As Tim Sears ’21 explained, much of his work as the president of Friars Club was atypical from what members usually experienced in other years. Sears credits his father’s influence as a Friar alumnus as well as the Friars Club member who gave him his prospective student tours as leading factors in his own enrollment, with the tour guide in particular inspiring him to join Friars Club, as well.
While such tours have become a staple for Friars Club members, many events for prospective students, alumni, and current students that required their assistance went virtual this year. This gave Sears time to create an inclusive atmosphere within the organization, as well as to look inwardly at his responsibilities. “We tried to give the club a lot of opportunities to connect virtually, and that was definitely needed to keep the club. Representing over 80 members, I knew that I needed to grow myself and do everything I could to correctly lead them. Focusing inward on myself allowed me to think about a lot of important things I had not thought about before, and it allowed me to grow in essential areas of my life.”
Fellow Friars Club member Sean King ’21 echoed Sears’s appreciation for the ability to make an impact on campus. “Certainly it feels weird walking around campus with masks and there not being as many students out and about,” he admitted, “however that spirit does truly still exist. I can still hear ‘GO FRIARS’ passing McDermott Hall, all the funny jokes they say to mess with us when by Ray, all of that community is still present. COVID has taken a lot from the “normal experiences” this year, but the same Friar Family is still there.”
This strong sense of Friar Family has also propelled students to continue supporting PC Athletics despite the inability for them to attend many events this year. “Once COVID struck, we were no longer able to attend games, and promotional events were put on pause,” explained Ashlyn Hovan ’21, head of social media for Friar Fanatics. “This put a big damper on the club because Friar Fanatics revolves around student body interaction and in-person sporting events. With that said, Friar Fanatics and Friar fans alike are some of the most dedicated, passionate, and supportive fans that I have seen during my four years; the Friartown energy in the student section during any sporting event is so infectious and is something that I will miss the most from Friar Fanatics.”
Although the past year has been far from what the class of 2021 expected their senior year would be when they first entered PC’s gates, the strong sense of Friar Family that has remained consistent has helped them make the most of their last few days as Providence College students.