By Kara Witherow, Editor
On Lily Packard’s list of college essentials are the usual items: sheets, towels, pillows, hangers, a laundry hamper, storage bins.
And there’s one more item she has to add this year: face masks.
The start of classes this fall is full of uncertainty for students and university administrators, faculty, and staff. The coronavirus pandemic has altered the way classes are taught, how students can congregate, and even the way campus ministries meet.
“I am a little nervous going into college just because everything right now is so uncertain,” said Packard, a 2020 graduate of Brunswick’s Glynn Academy and member of Wesley at Frederica United Methodist Church on St. Simons Island.
When she moves to Milledgeville Aug. 2, she and her fellow classmates at Georgia College and State University will be required to wear masks when inside campus buildings.
Packard is grateful that the university will host in-person classes and appreciates the safety measures that have been put in place.
Excited to get back to in-person classes, she has kept in touch with friends and loved ones virtually. Keeping her relationship with God strong is important, too, and one she intends to continue nurturing in college.
Recent Veterans High School graduate Sam Hagan, 19, was shocked when, in March, his principal announced that in-person classes were suspended until further notice.
Eight weeks later, he and the rest of his senior class were graduating in a socially distanced ceremony on Freedom Field in Warner Robins.
Hagan, who will attend Georgia Southern University this fall, had his senior tennis season cut short and his senior prom cancelled.
Prayer helps him maintain perspective and stay positive.
“I’ve been praying about it. I’ve been trying to be open to change, which is hard. All of this – change and getting used to new habits – is challenging, but it’s not the end of the world,” said Hagan, son of Julie and Dr. Scott Hagan, pastor of Statesboro United Methodist Church. “I’m going to keep praying and keep reading the Bible and keep trying to stay as close to God as possible because these times are super hard, and that’s truly the only way to overcome challenges.”
Rev. Michael McCord, executive director of the UMCommission on Higher Education and Campus Ministry, is concerned about college students – especially freshmen – being able to connect with faith communities this fall, especially with in-person summer orientation events cancelled.
Rev. McCord, who works with United Methodist campus pastors around the state, worries that students will face even more pressure and uncertainties as the year progresses. Finding a community that will encourage and support them will be critical, he says.
“This year is going to be really hard, especially for incoming freshmen,” Rev. McCord said. “They never got to say goodbye, they didn’t really get to graduate, and then we’re going to throw them into their first year of college in a really unknown situation, and we still don’t know what it’s going to look like at this point.”
It’s important that rising college freshmen are connected to campus ministries before arriving on campus, he says.
“There’s so much uncertainty. It’s a perfect storm and these are our young people; they’re our future. And that’s why I think what we’re doing through our college ministries is so important.”
He requests that youth ministers, pastors, parents, and anyone else who knows a college student help connect them with campus ministries across the state by visiting www.umcommission.org.
Packard combats the uncertainty by staying in touch with friends and growing in her faith. This summer she’s participating in a Zoom Bible study with other senior girls.
“It has been a light in a dark time. I have been trying to stay optimistic and positive by focusing on everything God has given me rather than what has been cancelled.”
She plans to connect with GCSU’s Wesley Foundation when she arrives on campus.
“I hope to continue this when I am in college by attending Wesley events at my school and joining a Bible study there.”