Logan Morrione, left, is a sophomore at Colby, but brother Max, right, is deferring his freshman year until next fall. Photo courtesy of Max Morrione

Max Morrione was supposed to be a first-year student this fall at Colby College. Instead he is herding cattle this September in New Mexico. His older brother, Logan Morrione, who was sent home in March, is back on campus starting his sophomore year. Come next fall, they hope they’ll both be in Waterville as Colby students.

Returning to college, and to what extent to take part, is one of the challenging decisions many families must make during this time of the coronavirus pandemic.

Logan Morrione graduated from Portland’s Deering High School in 2019; Max, 17, is a 2020 Deering grad. For most of their lives, their age difference meant little. This year, though, that one year created a major impact.

The Morrione brothers, of Portland, exemplify at least two of the choices college students can make when faced with the dilemma of what to do when confronted by COVID-19.

Max Morrione chose to take a gap year, foregoing the discipline of the college’s protocols to keep COVID-19 at bay and citing his desire for a more traditional freshman year experience.

“At first it was kind of like a backup option. If things don’t improve or if there’s a real risk of virtual classes, if it impacts the typical freshman college experience, that’s how we viewed it initially,” Max Morrione said.

“If the pandemic weren’t happening, I definitely would have gotten the experience. With the possibility that it could get canceled, changed or affected, if I were able to — which I fortunately am — I would just rather take the year to have the regular freshman experience in the future.”

According to Colby College, the admissions office typically approves gap year or deferral requests for between 2% and 4% of incoming first-year students. This year, approximately 5% of incoming first-year students requested and were approved for gap years or deferrals.

Logan Morrione is a sophomore at Colby College. Photo courtesy of Logan Morrione

Logan Morrione is back on campus in Waterville, where he has a foundation of friendships and expressed faith in the college’s plan to create a bubble of safety in Waterville.

Logan Morrione, who is 19, moved into his Colby accommodations Aug. 23. He quarantined in his room for 24 hours as a part of Colby’s rigorous $10 million health and safety plan.

Colby welcomed back its entire student body, with more than 2,000 students moving in on campus prior to the start of classes Aug. 26. That same week the college announced five positive cases, three students and two staff members. Logan Morrione tested negative before coming to campus and tested negative again upon arrival.

“I’ve talked to a bunch of my other friends who go to other colleges and their college’s plans don’t seem clear or iffy,” Logan Morrione said. “I think Colby decided to grab the bull by the horns and do rigorous testing.

“I also think that with the Colby community and our campus so isolated, once we’re able to see who has the virus and get rid of it, our only threat would be from outside the campus.”

Logan Morrione has yet to declare a major, but is leaning toward biology. He appreciated Colby’s efforts to hold classes in-person and utilize outdoor spaces. Of his four classes this fall, all are meeting in-person at least part of the time.

When the virus first hit, Logan Morrione considered taking the year off after he was sent home in March. However, with Colby’s option to allow a gap semester or gap year without penalty, Logan felt comfortable returning.

Having friends and participating in the school’s outing club and intramural sports — if they have them — offered a worthwhile experience.

“It’s much easier now that I have a foundation of friends, and I can eventually see them and spend more time with them,” Logan Morrione said. “In Max’s case, he’d still have to come to campus and make friends.”

Their parents, Marnie and Tom Morrione, firmly supported each of their sons decisions. As parents, Marnie Morrione said it was in the back of their minds, but they wanted to be “hands-off” in their sons’ decisions.

“I think we felt really fortunate that Colby allowed students to take their time and make their decision,” Marnie Morrione said. “We’re also very fortunate that they’re allowing Max to have his spot next fall. When we found out about that, we just talked with both boys for them to consider how might they want to proceed for the fall.”

Max Morrione is taking a gap year before starting at Colby College in the fall of 2021. Photo courtesy of the Morrione family

Max Morrione applied early decision and received notice of his acceptance in late December 2019. He joined the class Facebook group and started building relationships. Even though Colby is allowing students back, Max Morrione decided his best opportunity was to take a gap year.

Among the experiences freshmen have are the Colby freshman seminar and orientation and a COOT trip — Colby Outdoor Orientation Trip — where incoming freshmen go on small group trips.

Logan Morrione and eight other freshmen went on a hiking trip to Baldpate Mountain on the Appalachian Trail in Oxford County that helped him acclimate to the community.

Max Morrione said he will potentially do those things next summer, should health matters improve and COVID-19 subsides, but he is going to go to Colby next fall no matter what.

What Max Morrione is doing during the gap year also made a major difference in his decision.

“I was put in an interesting position because I didn’t have a ton of time to start preparing for it,” Max Morrione said. “Me having a productive gap year was kinda the deal breaker, because if I had a year and that time was just eaten up, it wouldn’t feel worth it.”

The gap year will indeed be busy.

First, Max Morrione is going to work on a ranch in Raton, New Mexico, from September through December, thanks to his grandparents, who had moved there recently and set him up with the gig.

The Morrione boys’ grandfather, Tom Morrione, graduated from Colby in 1965 and served on the college’s faculty as a sociology professor for 43 years, retiring in 2015. Tom’s wife and the Morrione boys’ grandmother, Nancy (Ryan) Morrione, worked in the Colby admissions department and retired in 2015 as the associate dean of admissions.

“I’d be herding cattle, milking them, just typical ranch work, but I’m not too familiar with it,” Max Morrione said. “I’m sure I’ll get acclimated.”

Then he’ll come home for a month. In January, Max Morrione plans to travel to Dubai to visit his uncle Doug Morrione, also a Colby alum, for two months. Doug Morrione is a contracted videographer, and his wife, Laura, is the head actuary for MetLife Insurance in the Middle Eastern region.

“It’s mostly just to visit family, spend time with them and also visit Dubai,” Max Morrione said.

Then he’ll come back in March to Portland, where he has been cutting hair, and plans to do an apprenticeship at a Portland barbershop where he hopes to get his barbering license.

Max Morrione played four varsity sports at Deering: basketball, soccer, lacrosse and football. He’s still training and hopes to walk on to the basketball team. He is undecided on a major, but is interested in economics, the stock market, investing and foreign affairs.

Marnie Morrione said the brothers got closer during the pandemic, and the family looks forward to making memories together at Colby down the line, perhaps a few normal parents weekends.

“That would be fantastic,” Marnie Morrione said. “I think Colby is an exceptional school, and I feel very fortunate that it runs in our family so deeply.”

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