To My Fellow First-Years, Thank You

Newly-elected AAS Vice President and Staff Writer Shane Dillon ’26 expresses gratitude for the first-year class and reflects on their exceptional sense of community.

When I first arrived on this campus, I was greeted by the many faces that I would later come to call my second family. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Summer Bridge Program, where incoming first-generation, low-income (FLI) first-years take mini-courses before the fall semester and become oriented with the college. We spent three weeks learning about each other, exploring the mysterious spots on campus, playing manhunt in the Science Center, and enjoying 1 a.m. volleyball. Last August, I had no expectations of what college should be like. But now I think I can sum it up in one word: community.

As I transition from being a senator to the Vice President of the Association of Amherst Students (AAS), I shift my focus away from supporting one class in the senate to the entire student body. With this, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of my fellow first-years who played and continue to play an integral role in my time at Amherst.

When I meet with different administrators, they often tell me that this first-year class has one of the strongest senses of community to walk through Amherst in a long time. Many of you have already become leaders within the clubs that you joined. I see more first-years at events than any other class, and none of you have ever been afraid to start a conversation. While I may be biased, I have to agree with the sentiment that there is just something special about our class, even if I can’t exactly pinpoint what it is. From the start of Summer Bridge to the end of the semester, my heart is full knowing that I am journeying with all of you for the next three years.

College in many ways is different from high school. We are often told at a young age that our lifelong friends will be found in college, but I at least struggled to believe that. When I walk through Valentine Dining Hall, through Frost Library, or the gym, I am always happy to see the same friend groups laughing, studying, or simply doing something together. That one group always in Val, or the same people that I always see in the basement of Frost. Whether you live on James Hall’s third floor, Stearns Hall’s second, South Hall’s fourth (you know who you are), Charles Pratt Dormitory’s basement, or venture to those spots from Appleton, Williston, or North, I have had such an amazing year getting to know all of you. Although I have my own close group of friends, I am so proud to have spent time with all of the different groups in our class in some capacity and have learned so much. College is not easy, and what I know now is that this wide-reaching camaraderie is necessary to make our time here not only manageable, but fun.

Some say that a rural school is a bad choice for college because it feels too isolating, and as someone who has lived in Western Massachusetts their whole life,  I understand that even more than most of my peers. However, that just means we have to be more creative. I had a conversation with a friend on Memorial Hill a few weeks ago, and we talked about how being in Amherst is hard, but it is the people that make it the best place to be. The community you are surrounded by makes or breaks your experience. If I had the option to stay on the First Year Quad with all of you for the rest of our time here, I would in a heartbeat.

It can be hard to leave for a whole summer, not knowing whether it will go fast or slow. We will all be living in different spaces next semester, scattered across campus, and the dynamic will shift. But it is the small moments in passing that will remind us of our first year of college. Of course, not every first-year knows or even likes each other, but I am in awe every day of the community that I see, the community that we have built and are going to continue to build, and the empathy and ambition that I see in all of you.

I ran for the AAS Senate because I wanted to find a way to connect with and be a voice for all of you. We are a people who thrive and survive together. We are a class of community. We are a class of determination. We are a class that wants to change the world for the better. We are a class that cannot easily be told no. And we are the damn class of 2026. This is nowhere near a goodbye, but it is the closest thing that I could think of to a thank you. I am who I am today because of all of you.

I hope that each and every one of you, my fellow first-year students, is leaving our first year with a plethora of new knowledge and a photo album’s worth of memories. While it is sad to say goodbye for the summer, the feeling of seeing everyone again in the fall will more than make up for it. Love you all, always, and congratulations on making it to the end of our first year, together.

Now, let’s TURN UP at the White Out Rave, and have a blast in our final moments as first-years.