Illustration by Aleah Green

There are moments in time that leave behind valuable memories with great stories to tell. Whether these stories are told by alumni or those graduating in the spring of 2020, these stories included many firsts. For example, the first time living away from home or the first time pulling an all-nighter working on homework. For most of the graduating class of 2020, it began Aug. 29, 2016 — the first day of school their freshman year.

2016–2017 academic year

With hearts pounding as the worry of getting to class on time filled the minds of the freshman class on campus, the thought of having to endure four years and eight semesters may have been daunting.

For senior Monica Long, her first day of classes left an impression on how her college experience was going to go.

“My first day, I was nervous about how my college classes would be structured, but I was in awe of everything,” Long said. “I had made a list of things I wanted to do within my first few months there, and I felt completely content and happy to settle in and call Flagstaff my home.”

One event on campus was in fall 2016 when Bernie Sanders visited campus Oct. 18, 2016 to endorse Hillary Clinton for the presidential election against Republican opponent and current president, Donald Trump.

With doors propped open and TV screens on in the common rooms, Long said she remembered election night when Trump was voted as president.

“The tension was palpable and I just remember the noise that came across the building when Trump won,” Long said.

Within the following week, Long said she had received emails stating that Residence Hall Assistants were there for students if they needed to grieve or talk about what happened.

When spring arrived, the campus trees were in full bloom. It meant students could lay on the grass to enjoy warm weather. In April, Long said she was able to experience events celebrating Earth Month that she had never done before.

“My favorite was when they turned off the power to all of central campus,” Long said. “Every dorm, parking lot and lamp was dark and we could see the night sky clearly. The milky way was even very distinct. They had light-up frisbees for us to play with, which was fun, and they even had fire dancers performing. It was a serene and peaceful night and I wish they would turn off the lights like that more often.”

2017–2018 academic year

With a growing university, construction was a common sight to see around campus. The new Honors College began construction during summer 2017 and was completed by fall 2018. The 204,656 square-foot building sits at the intersection of University and Knoles drives. The Honors College provides undergraduate students specialized learning with an average class size of 17 students.

In fall 2017, singer, songwriter and actor Jesse McCartney performed a sold-out concert at Prochnow Auditorium.

The NAU men’s cross country team won the NCAA Division I National Championship in Louisville, Kentucky Nov. 18, 2017, and returned to campus with its second consecutive national title, according to NCAA, as the team won in 2016 as well. With NAU elevated at nearly 7,000 feet, Flagstaff is a "haven" for runners according to a separate article by the NCAA.

In spring 2017, ASNAU and SUN Entertainment held their ninth annual spring concert. On April 19, the Walkup Skydome, typically the stadium used for NAU football games, hosted DJ Pickster One, rapper Rich The Kid and rapper KYLE, formerly known as SuperDuperKyle.

2018–2019 academic year

The spring of 2019 brought many surprises, including heavy snowfall that some called "Snowpocalypse" and the addition of the fleet of campus food delivery robots.

Senior Skylar Okie said one of his favorite memories on campus was when NAU had two snow days consecutively. 40.8 inches of snow blanketed campus within two days, according to the Arizona Daily Sun.

“A moment that stood out to me during my time at NAU was building an igloo in my driveway when NAU declared a snow day,” Okie said.

As classes were canceled, it was no surprise to see students playing out in the snow, which was possibly a first for many.

Sean Evans, archivist at NAU who specializes in NAU institutional history and Route 66, said that if he had to pick an object to put in a time capsule, he would pick something that became a ubiquitous part of campus that year.

“So much of what we do is digital and who knows how that ought to be represented,” Evans said. “I think something tangible. Maybe one of those Starship robots.”

Around the time NAU gained its 40.8 inches of snow, the university also gained new inhabitants — robots.

These Starship robots delivered food to students in certain locations at the touch of a button. For a delivery fee of two dollars, students were able to customize their orders just as they would be able to when ordering at a counter.

2019–2020 academic year

Fall 2019 kicked off celebrating 120 years of the university’s establishment. What seemed like another normal year in Lumberjack nation soon began to dissipate as a pandemic changed history worldwide.

If there’s anything to take away from her time here at NAU, Long said it was learning experience to be flexible with schedule changes.

“This whole online thing is new and not what I was wanting or expecting at all. I didn’t want to have my last memories in a town I love to be like this,” Long said. “I’ve learned to be more flexible than I’ve ever been. With classes changing semesterly, and everyone's [learning] styles being different, it’s hard to go through your major without being willing to adapt.”

Evans said there is no escaping the fact that this class will have the distinction of receiving their awards and ceremonies online and not in face-to-face celebrations. He said something to look at is the rate of change surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The spring 2020 semester can be distinguished in two parts: before in-person classes were canceled, and the transition after spring break to online classes, Evans said.

“This may seem flippant, but time and history have a way of leveling things out,” Evans said. “We’ll always look back at this semester and probably see a watershed of sorts because things — lots of them — will change on and off of campus. NAU will still be there fulfilling the role of a university for generations of students yet to come. We’ll have this semester in our collective memories and yes, the archives are working to document this event and experiences. With luck, at some point, we’ll be able to see how we were made better for it.”

For some, four years seemed to go by just as fast as Flagstaff’s fall season. From annual events like bonfires in the central quad to movie nights at Prochnow Auditorium, these were ways students could create new memories.

There are memories made that will not be forgotten, especially traditions that make a student a Lumberjack. Taking pictures in front of Old Main, hiking Humphreys Peak, the Running of the Freshmen and the homecoming carnival are some of many events that enabled students to create memories over their four years in Flagstaff.

While classes were transitioned abruptly and proper goodbyes were missed, it does not mean the memories are gone. Friendships and relationships at NAU should be cherished and will continue to provide mutual benefits in the future. Evans said the graduating class of 2020 should be proud of themselves as they got through a challenging semester.