The coronavirus pandemic has caused students across the country to make sacrifices, miss out on milestone events and celebrate others in unconventional ways.
High school seniors never had proms, final spring sports seasons or plays and graduated separated from most of their classmates.
Now rising college freshmen, they are confronted with tough choices as schools decide on the best way to keep students and professors safe without compromising learning.
No one knows this better than Emma Langis. This should be a period of great anticipation. A recent Ridgefield High School graduate, Langis was one of the state’s top athletes and was looking forward to her first year at Harvard. Coming off an injury-riddled last two seasons, Langis was ready to challenge herself on the track as well as in the classroom at one of the country’s most prestigious institutions.
Then Harvard announced that all learning will be done remotely for the upcoming academic year and only 40 percent of students will be allowed on campus. A probable mathematics major, the numbers for Langis did not make sense.
So Langis’ freshman year is going to start 12 months later than planned. She has decided to take a gap year, a road that likely will be more traveled now than ever before.
“Based off of this school year and seeing all the schools in Connecticut switching to online, I knew I didn’t want to go to college where the classes are online because I definitely learn better in in-person classes,” Langis said. “I started considering a gap year but I wasn’t entirely set on my decision yet. It was unlikely there would be fall sports and also winter and spring sports.”
Langis arrived at Ridgefield as a soccer and lacrosse player, but instant success on the track brought her to a singular focus. As a sophomore Langis won the 300 hurdles at the FCIAC, Class LL and State Open Championships. A stress fracture in her hip caused her to miss almost all of the regular season a year ago, but she rebounded to defend all three titles and add the New England title.
Langis, who runs the 600 meters during the indoor season, was slowed this winter with a foot injury. Then she lost her chance this spring for three-peats.
“It’s definitely super frustrating, especially because I’ve dealt with injuries for the past two years,” Langis said of her situation. “I didn’t have a full spring season this year and I didn’t have a full winter season this year. I was finally feeling good by the end of the indoor season and I was looking forward to really seeing what I could do with a full spring season as well as a summer season. Then I thought at least I could have a freshman season to see what I could do injury free. When that was canceled I was upset because I was in a good place in the winter.”
Langis said she got the full support of the Harvard coaching staff, which acknowledged given the circumstances there were no right or wrong decisions for its track athletes.
Now she will spend the fall working for Will Haskell, her state senator, helping with community outreach, calling voters and helping create social media posts. Langis said she is much more politically active since 2016 and feels working on Haskell’s campaign “will give her a purpose.”
Langis said while her gap-year choices are limited, she will try to do some local travel, find some other activities that interest her and, of course, continue to train and compete in next spring’s championship circuit.
Still, it ultimately is a compromise.
“It was definitely difficult because I never saw a gap year being part of my long-term plans,” Langis said. “I expected to go straight into college. Plus as an athlete it is tough to make a decision to take an entire year off. I knew at the end I wanted the full freshman experience because you only get to go to college for four years. I think it’s just too important to miss out on that. It was hard to come to terms with it but I’ve become pretty optimistic because it’s a chance for me to do stuff I’ve never had the opportunity to do before and better myself track-wise.”