My Senior Year of College Was Ended by COVID-19
Graduation didn't happen the way it supposed to for the author, and so many others.
Sitting in my apartment scattered with books, laundry and empty coffee mugs, I get ready for my first Zoom class. I send out Zoom links for afternoon interviews for my campus newspaper job. Through the wall, I hear my roommate's muffled voice while she talks to her class. Our cat wanders back and forth between our rooms, getting familiar with our constant presence. Later in the day, I plan to sit in the yard of a friend’s house to catch up on classes while she sits on her steps, properly socially distanced.
This is the new college experience.
College exists because it is supposed to prepare us to find jobs in order to comfortably support ourselves. But what are students supposed to do when that plan’s derailed by a pandemic?
I entered my senior year in college with a mixture of excitement and fear. I was planning to leave my safety bubble and enter the workforce. As a creative writing major with a minor in journalism, I knew that the job market would be hard to break into, but I love writing stories, so for me, the post-grad challenge seemed worth it.
Then COVID-19 hit.
Online Classes Are Nothing Like the Real Thing
Washington, where I attended college, was the first state in the U.S. with a confirmed case. When the news got out people immediately began stockpiling groceries, taking shelter and working from home. I was isolated from my family in Montana: They were still unaware of what kind of impact COVID-19 would have on their lives. I tried to warn them, in between assurances that I was safe and school was still in session—albeit online.
I completely understand why classes had to be moved to the internet, but that doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed or frustrated. Even though my professors were trying their best to give us the education I paid for, classes undeniably went down in quality. Students who paid thousands of dollars for in-person instruction were now paying practically the same price for a pass-fail education. Since many students moved home, some out-of-state students were paying to take classes in their childhood bedrooms.
Then news came that graduation would be virtual, too. Instead of seeing me walk, my family got to see my name pop up on a screen in their living room, states away. I didn't get to say goodbye in person to my professors, peers or the university, itself. My friends and I waved farewell from six feet apart.
And Now: The New Reality
Balancing finishing school, a writer/editor position and a post-graduation job hunt is challenging, especially in isolation and the in midst of a pandemic. Motivation and drive are hard to sustain when outside stressors, anxieties and hardships are banging on the door. I’ve been reporting on what’s been happening locally while trying to balance my own life, all while people close to me have been losing their jobs and moving home, leaving piles of furniture outside their apartments.
The post-grad job hunt’s been put on the back burner, but not forgotten. I still have bills to pay.
I felt selfish for my worries about virtual graduation and struggling to find jobs because people were falling victim to the virus—people I knew. Five weeks before graduation, my family lost a member to COVID-19. I attended my relative's funeral sitting at the same desk, scattered with the same to-do lists and notes where I’d been attending class. My family and I couldn’t mourn together or hug. Instead, we sat in our assigned virtual boxes and stared at a screen, muting our tears.
I didn’t expect that the hardest part of college would be missing the chance to say goodbye to those I love, while also saying goodbye to life before COVID-19.
However, I’m still in a position of ample privilege, and it’s important for me to recognize that. I have the support of my family and professors. I have a job through the university that I was able to keep. I’m also using what I’ve learned in school to create platforms for people to share their stories during this historic time.
Now it’s on the class of 2020 to fix this. With an upcoming election on a collision course with a potential recession, it is our job to make our voices heard and fight for those suffering. And it’s the job of those with power to hear us. Students pay their life savings and take on massive debt because we’re conditioned to believe there will be jobs once we’re done with school. That’s not a given anymore—if it ever was.
We’re leaping into the unknown, but we’re not alone. There are thousands of students right now working towards an education in order to find solutions to these problems. Listen to us, and help us achieve our goals before and after graduation. We need you—but even more importantly, you need us.