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Students reflect on their decisions to take personal leaves of absence

February 18, 2021

This semester, 179 students have taken a personal leave of absence from the College—a slight increase from the fall, when 164 students took leaves. For these students, taking a personal leave of absence provides an escape from Zoom classes and an opportunity for creative or professional pursuits.

Though the College previously stated that it could not guarantee students on leave readmission for the semester of their choice, Dean of Students Kristina Bethea Odejimi wrote in an email to the Orient that students currently on leave will not need to go through the re-enrollment process to return. Those who wish to return in fall 2021 simply must inform the Office of the Dean of Students by April 7 through an online form.

Students who took leaves either during the fall or the current spring semester decided to do so for a variety of reasons.

Chapman Odlum ’22 said that he chose to take a leave during the fall semester after being dissatisfied with his online classes in the final weeks of the spring 2020 semester.

“When Bowdoin came out and they said, ‘Congratulations, we’re not raising tuition at all [for fall 2020],’ but it was still full cost for what I saw as not really the real college experience, I just knew I couldn’t do it,” he said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

Kaya Wurtzel ’21 also made the decision to take a leave of absence in the fall of 2020, and she was motivated by a similar disappointment with online learning, as well as a change in her family’s financial situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wurtzel, who spent her time away from Bowdoin canvassing for the Maine People’s Alliance, nannying and making art, has now re-enrolled for the spring 2021 semester.

“I have more energy to put into my classes and to make them work, even though they are still online,” she said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

Similarly, Annina Breen ’21 took a leave in the fall and decided to re-enroll for the spring semester in order to graduate on time.

“Just being able to put it all behind me within the four years I had planned and sort of move on was a big thing for me,” Breen said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I figured it was a good choice to come back and maybe be able to see my friends in some capacity and get that closure.”

Lia Kornmehl ’23, on the other hand, has chosen to take a leave of absence this spring after studying remotely for the fall 2020 semester.

“I did feel like, after two semesters, essentially, of online classes, I couldn’t really do it anymore because it felt like I had lost half of my first year and then also half of my second year, and so I really wanted to pause my education until it could be done in a way that I’ve found the most engaging,” she said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

Kornmehl’s decision to take a leave was cemented after finding a professional opportunity that sounded more appealing to her than classes over Zoom. Her initial plans to work on a campaign for Boston mayor Marty Walsh fell through when Walsh joined President Joe Biden’s cabinet, but she quickly found another position on another mayoral campaign.

Like Kornmehl, Daniel Coffield ’23 elected to take a leave of absence for the spring 2021 semester when presented with an opportunity to participate in EMT training in his hometown of Charleston, West Virginia.

After learning of the high rates of HIV infection related to drug use in the area, Coffield was inspired to help.

“That really led me to the conclusion that the best way to spend my semester would be [to do] something not for myself but [to do] the EMT training,” he said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

Edmundo Ortiz Alvarez ’23 made the decision to take a leave of absence for a full academic year. Alvarez’s choice was driven, in part, by doubt surrounding his situation as an international student.

“There [was] a lot of uncertainty regarding whether [international students] would be able to [enter the United States], and so I just decided to take a leave of absence,” he said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I just knew that whatever was going to happen would’ve been better than taking online lessons from Mexico.”

Annie Boasberg ’22 chose to take a leave for the entire 2020-2021 academic year because, as a member of the women’s basketball team, she knew that it was possible she would miss an entire season of her athletic career if she took online classes.

“We weren’t guaranteed a season at all and I was really upset at the fact that I missed last season [because of an injury],” she said. “So I was like, ‘Okay, you know what, I feel like I’m getting some sign here [that] I need a year off, and I need to do something to take my mind off of basketball and find something that I love to do that I wouldn’t be able to do in any other circumstance,’ and I’m really happy I did.”

While perhaps not part of students’ initial plans, many have found value in their experiences away from the College.

“This was the first time I’ve ever taken a break from school in my entire life,” said Wurtzel. “But as much as it felt a little bit scary and destabilizing, it also felt really good to just breathe for a second.”


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