Three alumni take different paths through university after schools announce policy changes

From Texas to Wyoming to Montana to Idaho to Washington, a gap year of adventures awaits alumnus Ned Dockery ‘20. 

Dockery planned to stay enrolled in Princeton’s class of 2024 if he was allowed to be on campus for at least one semester. However, in early August, Princeton announced that no one would be on campus in the fall.  

“I had considered the idea of taking time off from college for a while, but I always feared being behind,” Dockery said. “When [Princeton] changed their plans…I decided to apply for a gap year. I didn’t worry about being ‘off-track’ because I figured everyone is on a different path through college right now.”

Princeton had to cancel their international gap year program this year, so Dockery is not enrolled in a formal program. Rather, he is planning his own year. 

Currently, Dockery is tutoring students in his neighborhood. From Sept. 15 to before Thanksgiving, he will be traveling with Adventures Cross Country, hiking and camping for 70 days through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington. In the spring, he plans to work in an UT Southwestern lab. Later, in April and May, Dockery will take a road trip to national parks across the country with other Princeton gap year students.

“I’m certainly looking forward to getting out of the house, and I’m really excited about spending time with new (but important) experiences,” Dockery said. “I’ve always wanted to take a break from the fast-paced nature of school and spend more time on challenging but rewarding adventures, and that’s what this gap year gives me the opportunity to do. It’s a great chance to do things solely because I’m interested in them, and I think that will help me figure out what I want to do later in life.” 

“I didn’t worry about being ‘off-track’ because I figured everyone is on a different path through college right now.”

Ned Dockery,

Alumnus Daniel Kaplan ‘20 is also taking a gap year, having deferred for a year from Cornell University to attend Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem via the Hevruta Gap-Year Program. 

“Cornell extended their deadline for deferral in May, so I started looking at various gap year programs,” Kaplan said. “One of my best friends was going on about this program called Hevruta, which is all about connecting Jewish Americans and Israelis and exploring how we practice Judaism. I really wanted to explore my Jewish identity more, so I decided to apply in mid-June, and now I’m here.”

Kaplan is currently in Jerusalem. After arriving, as mandated by Israel, he quarantined for two weeks. After two weeks, he was allowed to attend the in-person program.

“I am currently staying in an apartment in Jerusalem with five other boys who were on the same flight as me,” Kaplan said. “Quarantine is way different because in the U.S., I was staying at home with my parents, but here we have to cook our own dinners (lunch is dropped off every day). We also can’t leave our apartment at all. Back home, I was able to go on walks but, here, we’re under strict watch, so we can’t even leave our fourth floor apartment.”

Right now, Kaplan is taking classes via the virtual program. He has a Hebrew class for an-hour-and-a-half a day, then one of the students’ parents teaches a class about what they do with their job. Kaplan is also taking a class about how to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and an optional art or yoga class. 

“The virtual program is not very intense,” Kaplan said. “The classes that we will be taking are at the institute and are specific to the program. It’s also not for college credit, so it’s just learning for the sake of learning.”

Outside of class, Kaplan and his roommates play cards, study the Talmud, work out, listen to Broadway show tunes and bake brownies. For Kaplan, the most memorable part of the program has been spending Shabbat in Jerusalem and bringing his traditions from home to the dinner table. 

“Before Shabbat, the staff drop all of our meals off at our doors, so we don’t have to cook which is nice,” Kaplan said. “We have a hot plate which is on timer so it turns on two hours before meal time. You’re not allowed to turn things on or off on Shabbat, so we heat all our meals on the hot plate which automatically turns on or off. Before Shabbat dinner, we had a very spirited Kabbalah Shabbat service which is all about welcoming in Shabbat. After Shabbat lunch and dinner, we sing a lot of camp songs. Throughout Saturday we played a lot of card games and Settlers of Catan. Then after dinner we sing sadder songs since Shabbat is ending. After that we do Havdalah to officially end Shabbat.”

Kaplan is looking forward to his upcoming four-day camping trip as well as in-person learning.

“I’m definitely looking forward to in-person learning and also just to meeting the other people in the program,” Kaplan said. “Right now, we only have about two-and-a-half hours of structured classes a day so to have an added bit of structure will be nice.”

Some alumni are taking a more traditional approach. Alumna Sarah Hands ‘19 decided to remain as a sophomore student at UT Austin. However, Hands has found there to be many changes in academic structure and social life due to COVID-19.

The biggest change is that the classes are now all online. There are two different kinds of classes: self-paced and online. During online classes, students attend live virtual lectures. During self-paced classes, the professor will upload the lecture and materials, and you have to do assignments by a certain time. 

“The classes are so big that each teacher has 400 people, so it’s hard to get to know them and have a personal connection,” Hands said. “Self-paced classes are so much harder because a lot of people will just put off the work for a while, or they’ll end up not actually watching the lectures and just do the assignments every once in a while for online classes you’re forced to go and watch the lecture.” 

Hands also notes that there are many changes to social life as well. 

“We have to be more careful about hanging out with groups bigger than 10 and wearing masks everywhere,” Hands said. “A lot of people don’t really follow the 10 person rule here. There’s some parties and hangouts with more people, but it’s hard to stop. Also, [now we spend] so much time in [our] room––all my roommates and I are just in our room the whole day.”

Hands is in a sorority; however, no one can enter the sorority house. She currently lives in an off-campus apartment in Austin with a couple of girls.

“It hasn’t been that bad off-campus because if they do shut the school down, we still can stay here because it’s not related to UT,” Hands said. “Where I’m living, they still enforce all the COVID-19 guidelines. You can’t walk around with no mask.”

Outside of class time, Hands hangs out with her friends, walks her dogs, works out and cooks. Hands has found positivity in these times by forming better relationships with her friends, developing better hobbies and getting a new pet. 

“I still do hang out with my friends a little bit since most of my friends all live in the same place, but we just have to be very careful and social-distance,” Hands said. “I got really close with [my roommates,] so I feel like I got a lot better friendships because we were all forced to hang out with each other one-on-one. Also, I feel like I’ve developed some better hobbies. I developed good cooking skills because I’ve been eating in a lot. I’ve just been finding more stuff to focus my time on instead of just partying. I got a cat, too, because I knew I had time to take care of it since I’m going to be home all the time. So I think [COVID-19]  allowed me to focus more on myself and get better friendships and find hobbies.”

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