Class of ’23E Looks Back on Unusual College Experience

The graduation ceremony for the Class of 2023E will be held in Johnson Chapel on Sunday, Dec. 11. Members of the abnormally large class reminisce on their college experience, reflecting on their first years, the pandemic, and favorite professors.

As graduation at the end of the fall semester nears for the Class of 2023E, a larger-than average cohort due to the high number of students who took gap years during the pandemic, The Student talked with members of the class about their experiences at Amherst.

Despite its small size relative to spring-graduating classes, ’23E is no less diverse in its members’ experiences. Some of its members are transfers who came to Amherst midway through the year and began during the spring semester. Others took a semester break from Amherst, with many doing so during the most difficult phase of the pandemic, before returning to resume their studies.

With these students now facing the end of their time at Amherst, many remarked on their beginnings. When asked why they chose to attend Amherst, ’23E members gave a variety of reasons ranging from the liberal arts style of education to the small class sizes.

Alison Farinas ’23E, a biochemistry major, chose Amherst for the latter reason. “In high school, I knew that I really liked the small class, nurturing learning environments,” she said. “So I knew that I wanted a liberal arts type of school.”

Grace Cho ’23E, an English and Asian American studies major, transferred to Amherst from community college in Fall 2020. Cho expressed that when searching for a college to transfer to, Amherst immediately stood out.

“At Amherst, I found that the college offered [transfer] students support in a number of ways, both with the close-knit transfer community here, as well as the financial aid,” she said.

Mase Peterson ’23E, an English and Sexuality, Women, and Gender Studies major who transferred to Amherst the same year as Cho, described how important the transfer community has been during their time at Amherst. “If Covid gave me anything worthwhile, it was the opportunity to share my time and love with the transfer cohort I entered here with,” they said. “My favorite moments and experiences have to be oriented around those folks.”

When asked about their experience at Amherst, most members of the Class of ’23E said that the pandemic was a major force in shaping their Amherst experience in both negative and positive ways.

Peterson described the pandemic and its effects as “hellish.” But they also said that “it gave me enough perspective to understand what my priorities would be as a student here. I learned way more about how to be a friend to yourself and others in times of crisis.”

Cho explained that because she was unable to visit campus before attending, she was forced to be more open to change. “I think that a lot of my time [at Amherst] has been characterized by adaptation and having to adapt to the different circumstances,” she said.

Others, like Farinas, took a semester off when Covid hit to avoid the lockdown and stress of online classes. She expressed that she has only recently realized how much Covid impacted her overall experience on campus.

“I feel like especially this semester, I’ve realized how many things [I have] missed out on as things have become more normal, and there are more events and that type of stuff again,” Farinas said. She added that she was grateful, though, for the fact that she could experience that sense of normalcy during her last semester, as a way to come full circle from her first year.  

The pandemic aside, the Class of 2023E recalled an array of favorite memories from their time at Amherst.

Farinas mentioned her senior thesis experience, during which she discovered a new protein in a certain species of bacteria. She was especially thankful for the professors who helped her throughout the grueling research process.

Cho reflected on how meaningful it was for her to work at the Book and Plow Farm. “The space allows you to just spend some quiet time in a peaceful environment,” she said.

Peterson expressed their appreciation for the large variety of classes they took during their time at Amherst. “I have four shout-outs: [Professor in Greek Classics] Frederick Griffiths, [Professor of History and Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies] Jen Manion, [Professor of Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies] Katrina Karkazis, and [Assistant Professor of English] Frank Leon Roberts,” they said, when asked about their favorite professors.

Ugo Asonye ’23E is grateful for all the friends he made, the people he met, and the things he learned at Amherst. The one lesson he’ll take with him as he moves on from Amherst: “No matter how much you want things to slow down, the world keeps moving on.”

The intellectual growth students experienced in their time at the college was especially valuable. “Amherst has definitely re-engineered in me an earnest desire to know more, question more, and interrogate my own complacencies as much as I'm able,” Peterson said.

Cho explained that she has “learned to reflect and acknowledge the value of my different identities and experiences. And in doing so, bring my authentic self into the activities I do.”

Farinas gave a final piece of upper-classmen advice for students still at Amherst. “Find a balance between stress and enjoying the present,” she said. “I feel like sometimes people stress themselves out way more than they need to.”

The graduation ceremony for the Class of 2023E will be held in Johnson Chapel on Sunday, Dec. 11. All Amherst students are encouraged to attend and celebrate their peers as they reach this important milestone.