A crowd of thousands gathered to celebrate returning to class at Memorial University in St. John's on Tuesday, kicking off the institution's first full Welcome Week in three years.
Tuesday marked the start of fall semester classes at the school — all of them in person and on campus, a major change from what had become the pandemic norm.
"There's so many people here," said Samantha Noel, a third-year English major, as she walked through campus. "A lot of people seem really excited and nervous. It's definitely a really excited atmosphere right now."
Noel started school in the fall of 2020, taking classes exclusively online for the first year, a situation she described as "pretty difficult."
"It was really hard to focus completely at home," she said.
In March 2020, as the pandemic first took hold in the province, MUN decided to move to remote learning. Classes were held fully online until the fall of 2021, when in-person classes resumed, capped at 100 people, with limited Welcome Week activities held under pandemic restrictions. MUN had planned to have no restrictions the following semester, but when the Omicron variant wave hit, classes started off entirely online, before moving to a 100-person cap again.
Now all classes have returned from their pandemic isolation. But the university did bring back some mask rules, including requiring students to wear them in all classes and labs on all campuses, at the Student Wellness and Counselling Centre in St. John's, at health services on the Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook and at COVID-19 testing areas.
Masks are not required in public areas or in offices, though the university said it strongly recommends people wear them.
On Tuesday, students looking for some direction and their first taste of on-campus university life crowded the student centre.
"You can see it. You can see the buzz and excitement everywhere. Everyone's excited to be back in person after," said Gaayathri Munrugan, the Newfoundland and Labrador chair of the Canadian Federation of Students.
Nurul Alam, a second-year student, was on campus for the first time.
"It's great," he said. "[We're] having fun, we are doing a lot of things. We are enjoying the environment."
His twin brother, Tanvir Alam, agrees.
"In-person class, it's really wonderful," he said. "They're synchronized, where the professor teaches us. It's really good, they're helping students and they're taking questions — which we need."
Isabel Ojeda of the MUN student union said there are some mixed feelings as well.
"I know folks are feeling a lot of stress and anxiety about the rising tuition costs, rising housing crisis, etc. So a lot of mixed feelings here today, but we're super-excited to have folks back on campus," she said.
MUN president Vianne Timmons said Tuesday the past few years have been challenging, and it's good to have students back on campus.
"They've missed that university experience, that chance to meet new people, the chance to really get involved in university life — which is so exciting and so important."