The International Day of Education celebrates the role of teachers, students, and institutions in building a better and more peaceful world. The struggles of the past year have shown how important that mission is — even as we’ve been forced to change the ways in which we all learn and share with one another.

Across the world, education has moved from the classroom to the living room. The shift from physical to digital learning has changed a lot of things we take for granted, including what’s usually one of the biggest moments in someone’s life: attending college for the first time.

For International Education Day, we’re taking some time to talk with one of the many classes whose first year of university life didn’t go the way they imagined: the UC Berkeley Class of 2024. With teamwork, determination, and the creative use of their Discord community, these students have banded together to overcome one of the greatest challenges an incoming class has faced in generations.

Your First Year of University, From Home

Incoming freshman and Economics & Media Studies major James Nguyen was proud to become a Berkeley Bear last year. But with the pandemic forcing students to stay at home, his first few semesters weren’t quite what he’d expected.

“It was hard coming into my first year as a university student,” James explains. “We would be taking classes remotely, it felt harder to make friends since it’s different seeing someone in person compared to a computer screen.”

That’s when James had the idea to create a Discord server for UC Berkeley. “I have always seen a lot of potential in Discord, especially during the times we were in. I felt that creating a server would give incoming students, like myself, the opportunity to connect with others over our shared interest of attending the #1 Public University, UC Berkeley, for the next four years of our life.”

An ongoing conversation in the UC Berkeley community.

The server started off small. But as more and more students realized online classes were the new normal, word of mouth made the server grow by leaps and bounds. As of this writing, the Class of 2024 server has over 1,500 members. Which means that even learning remotely, James has a lot of new friends to talk to.

“My friend group and I have called each other every single night for the past 8–9 months and am extremely thankful for being able to meet an amazing group of individuals who I would gladly call my family at Berkeley.”

Recreating Campus Activities Virtually

As UC Berkeley begins its spring semester, many students continue to study remotely from off-campus lodging. Thanks to James’s server, however, no-one has to go it alone: the Class of 2024 is never more than a few clicks or swipes away from their classmates.

Students pop in to the server to swap gossip, study, get in a few rounds of Among Us, and even work on coding projects together. In addition to impromptu gatherings, the server’s Event Coordinator Team hosts movie nights, game nights, and even “Bob Ross painting sessions” where community members create some happy little trees with one another.

From left to right: Jamie W., Kyle M., Myla, Yoonji K., and Jessica L.

Cooing over adorable animals. Gushing over the latest anime and music releases. Swapping pics of what you ate. Messaging @everyone to show them your painting of JJ the Jet Plane flying with a pickle over the mountainside. Suddenly, staying home for classes doesn’t seem quite as daunting…or as lonely.

Naturally, the Class of 2024 server splits recreation with good ol’ fashioned studying. When it’s time to sit down and cram, six class-specific roles help students within the same major connect with one another. Anybody looking for a server for a specific class will find the 2024 community is a great place to ask around and find fellows.

“A few of my classes have official Discords which have course staff to answer questions, and some have movie and game nights,” says Rsha256, one of the many members of the Class of 2024. Student Nikhil says about a third of their Discord servers are Berkeley-related, but everyone comes back to the main Class of 2024 server as their main home and base of operations.

Meeting New Friends All Over Again

It may not feel like it now, but it’s just a matter of time before things get back to normal. Everyone cramming online will get their chance to walk proudly along campus as a Berkeley Bear. When that day comes, they won’t be struggling to catch up and make friends: their friends will already be waiting for them.

Sablewind, one of the many members of the Class of 2024, is already making plans to hang out IRL with her new crew. “Even though it’s so early, we’ve made tentative plans to go skiing, get KBBQ, and just hang out or study together in general.”

Along with Sablewind, KarynPham wants to meet some fellow designers and inventors. Giselle is owed a free boba from another community member; it’s a long time to wait for tapioca, but that’ll just make it taste all the better.

The class of 2024 have already shared a lot of memories together. What’s more, they’ve shared their struggle. When the final year rolls around and students receive their diplomas, it won’t be just another degree: it’ll be a legacy of their unique situation.

“Being a part of the class of 2024 is a badge of honor and I’m proud to be in a diverse and hardworking cohort of scholars ready to serve themselves and others,” says chemical.nose. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Getting Started With Your Own Class Server

If you’re looking to create a server specifically for you and your fellow classmates, there’s plenty of Discord resources to get you started. Check out the articles and blog posts below:

  • How to use Discord for your classroom: An overview of how you can run lectures and classes remotely through Discord. Includes advice on how to structure your server and a special Server Template you can use to hit the ground running.
  • Discord Moderator Academy: The bigger your server becomes, the tougher it may be to manage. The Moderator Academy helps server moderators of all experience levels.
  • Community Spotlight: UT Dallas Discord: In addition to the UC Berkeley Class of 2024’s server, students from the University of Texas, Dallas also run a server for their community. Check it out for some more inspiration on how your future server could work!

And as always, our Help Center and Customer Experience teams are always willing and able to assist, no matter what Discord difficulties you may face. You can visit our Help Center or submit a support ticket if you need some additional aid at any time of the year.