Mercersburg vs. COVID-19: The Senior Perspective

Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Prior to the pandemic, students cheer during the Step Songs tradition.

As we ease back into the Mercersburg fall term, students and faculty are eager to restore traditions affected by COVID-19. In the past two school years, Mercersburg spent two terms in virtual classes, and several students missed the warm unification of being in person. Only 65 out of 444 students have experienced the school’s culture pre-COVID-19, and I am not one of those students. Though students are ready to take on a more balanced school year, the continued COVID tests and masks are crucial to ensure health and safety on campus. Mercersburg has been focusing on bringing excitement by educating students on the building blocks of our school community with new events such as Culture Clinics. In an effort to learn about Mercersburg prior to COVID, I reached out to seniors, and I am delighted and impressed by how emotional and devoted these seniors are when speaking about the place that they call home. 

As Ellie Jornlin ’22 says, “One hundred percent without the traditions, we are not Mercersburg. Any and every first-time experience inducts students into the community. Without them, we would just be a school.” I could not agree more, considering this is my third school since 9th grade and this campus has its own distinctive warmth. 

Excited to experience the Irving-Marshall Week competitiveness, dorm-life engagement, and school spirit, my vision of Mercersburg was altered by COVID. However, listening to the pride that students carry when discussing their glimpse of Mercersburg brings ultimate joy and helps me to maintain a positive outlook. For instance, immediately this year, the Academy opened the year with an in-person Convocation, which enlightened my view of the attempts to return to a normal school year. As opposed to logging into a Zoom call, I was cheerful about seeing plenty of smiles (or masks with squinted eyes) as the crowd applauded being one. As Jim Malone, the Convocation speaker and longtime faculty member, presented his speech regarding his remarkable experiences and the accomplishments of the alums, he touched several hearts and brought tears to the crowd. (Read his speech here.) This reminded me of how tightly knit the community really is.

Several four-year seniors enthusiastically anticipate the events during Family and Alumni Weekend. The Step Songs and bonfire are staples to kicking off the year while students gather close to belt out the alma mater as one. I anticipate the confusion of the first-year students when the school passionately screams, “With full hearts and loud swelling cheers,” which also took me by surprise as a new student. When I spoke with Student Council Vice President Matthew Tavarez ’22, he told me he misses the unity during Family and Alumni Weekend: “Hearing the alums’ stories and reminiscing about what Mercersburg has done for them is inspiring because what you learn here translates to college.” Knowing that the bonding aspect is a focal point, it is evident that the Academy preserves a family-like environment. Being here for not much longer than a year, I am grateful that I can admire and connect to my older brother’s reflection of his integral experience as a member of the Class of 2018. The appreciation on campus and support from faculty is everlasting.

Another tradition, Irving-Marshall Week, is an all-around campus favorite and drives exhilaration and rowdiness in every area of campus. The beginning recruitment for new students creates closeness for both societies: Irving and Marshall. With the dance, sporting events, and ridiculous games, I hope that loosened COVID-19 restrictions will double the cheering and spirit this year. Evan Howley ’22, president of the Marshall Society, wants to revive the traditions: “It involves the whole school and is great for participating in the culture. It’s a big part of the school’s identity and student body.” I am pumped to see so many students committed to each other with the weight of competing for their societies. Go Irving! The intensity of the competitions takes the place of winter term of exams—pretty worth it if you ask me! 

If precautions are followed and COVID-19 rates are stabilized, Mercersburg is optimistic about proceeding with normal traditions and events. The first sporting events take place this weekend, and the Blue Storm is prepared to rake it up on the field and courts. Ironically, being my final year, I look forward to the senior trip to the theater, diner, and the last sunrise as a class at the end of the year—something I have heard so much about. It ties everyone tighter as other seniors and I bid our goodbyes. As for now, I hold my head high as the efforts to include new students into the community continue and have improved immensely since the start of the pandemic.

Editor's note: Melody Howe ’22 is one of two student interns in Mercersburg’s Office of Strategic Marketing and Communications for fall 2021. She is from Short Hills, NJ, and her brother, Andrew Howe ’18, is an alum.