PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In a typical academic year at Brown, first-year students proceed through the Van Wickle Gates on a warm September afternoon, to the sounds of bagpipes, bells and the cheers of faculty, staff and returning students gathered to watch along Prospect Street and across the Quiet Green.
Like so many other campus traditions taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic, this one transpired a bit differently for the 2020-21 academic year. But on Tuesday, Feb. 16, approximately 1,600 members of the Class of 2024 walked through the gates, and tradition proceeded nonetheless — with a few adjustments made to ensure the health and safety of Brown and its neighboring communities, while preserving a rite of passage in which Brown students have taken part for generations.
The members of the first-year class — whose arrival to campus was delayed until the spring term to help the University reduce the density of students during the pandemic — proceeded through the gates surrounded by a snowy landscape instead of late summer sun. And crowds of onlookers and clusters of musicians were replaced with recorded music and a much smaller group of socially distanced faculty and staff leaders, who — like the students they were there to support — wore their smiles behind masks.
But neither the cold weather nor the carefully planned safety protocols could dampen the spirits of the first-year students in attendance, said Kaitlyn Williams, a first-year student from Peachtree Corners, Georgia, who is concentrating in applied mathematics.
“It was a very happy moment,” she said. “Even though we have already started our classes, it feels now like we’ve really begun our experience at Brown.”
Hamsa Shanmugam — a first-year student from Massachusetts enrolled in Brown’s Program in Liberal Medical Education — agreed: “We were all definitely excited. We have been waiting for this for a really long time.”