Making Up for Lost Time, These Students Find Silver Lining in First-Year Challenges

Two people in T-shirts pose for a photo in front of a brick wall and window. Image by courtesy
After graduating from Saugus High School, senior English major Jake Horgan, left, and senior business major Nick Israelson got through the strange start to college together at UML.

By Jill Gambon

Flash back to the spring of 2020: It was one cancellation after another for Jake Hogan and Nick Israelson, who were about to graduate from high school in Saugus, Massachusetts.

Long-awaited rites of passage – the senior prom, a class trip to Europe, graduation parties – were scuttled, thanks to COVID-19. Their graduation ceremony took place on the high school football field with everyone spread out 6 feet apart, limited to two guests per graduate. It was hard to muster a celebratory mood.

That fall, the high school friends were heading to UMass Lowell together. But they began their first semester as River Hawks living at home, taking online classes. The situation was discouraging. 

“I was kind of itching to live away, really yearning for that college experience,” says Hogan, an English major with concentrations in journalism and professional writing. 

“It was definitely lonely,” says Israelson.

Both Hogan and Israelson decided to move to campus for the second semester. With COVID restrictions still in place, they lived in rooms by themselves one floor apart in Fox Hall. Most classes were online.

“It felt very odd. Being thrown into living alone was very jarring, but it gave me independence. And it taught me a lot,” says Hogan. “I’m very glad I did it.” 

Having a friend living in the same building was helpful for both of them. They could get together outside for coffee, to toss a football or to venture off campus for a fast-food run. It wasn’t the college experience they were expecting, but they made it work.

“We leaned on each other and tried to make it as normal as possible,” says Hogan.
“We leaned on each other and tried to make it as normal as possible.” -Jake Hogan on starting college during the pandemic

When classes resumed in the fall of 2021 with COVID restrictions eased, the pair dug into college life. Now roommates, they made friends through intramural sports, in their classes and in campus clubs.

“When we first got back, I was at the Campus Rec Center every day,” says Israelson, a business administration major with concentrations in marketing and management. “I wanted to make up for lost time and meet new people. I was motivated.”

Israelson got involved in the Marketing Society and International Business Association and landed a full-time summer internship with ALKU, a recruitment firm based in Andover, Massachusetts, where he continues to work part time.

Likewise, Hogan threw himself into campus activities. In a psychology class with Assoc. Prof. Stephanie Block, he learned about the Navigators Club, which advocates for students who have followed a less traditional path to college and need additional support. He decided to get involved, and “it snowballed from there,” he says. He eventually became club president, coordinating activities like a donation drive for personal care items for students in need.   

Hogan, who says he is someone who thrives on a jam-packed schedule, also started a book club on campus and did internships with U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan and with the Merrimack Repertory Theatre. And he took advantage of two study abroad opportunities through the Honors College, traveling to Madrid and London for the courses. 

Israelson is continuing in the Bachelor’s-to-Master’s program in the Manning School and expects to have his MBA by next spring. Hogan is looking for a job and plans to apply to law school down the road; he’s interested in civil rights or intellectual property law.

This year, Hogan and Israelson are embracing all the Commencement festivities that they missed out on four years ago. Hogan’s family has rented out a hall for a joint celebration for him and his sister, who is graduating from high school. Israelson has two graduation parties planned.

Looking back on the strange start to their college years, both Hogan and Israelson agree there were positives to come out of it. Both say those lonely and difficult months of isolation prompted them to take advantage of every opportunity when things opened back up.

“We got through it. I grew up. I started taking care of myself. I gained independence,” Israelson says. 

“It made me grateful, so I didn’t take my college experience for granted,” says Hogan.