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Devon Harvey: Graduating in 2020

For some graduation is the end of the long road called education. For others, it is the start of adulthood; where jobs are applied for, student debts become real and your school years begin to feel like a distant memory. Overall, graduation can be scary and the general feeling from graduates seems to be that they’ve been dealt a bad hand. 

Graduation Ceremonies

Graduating symbolises leaving behind a comfort zone and being thrust into a new world; comprised of financial worry, job applications and responsibility. Paired with a pandemic, some graduates – like the rest of the population – have been left feeling deflated, scared, lonely and frustrated. There have been multiple articles over the past month which have covered the ‘Class of COVID’. Dana Brownlee’s piece ‘The Pandemic’s Unique Toll on 2020 College Graduates’, published on the 4th April, breaks down the impact of the pandemic on this year’s graduates into five categories: ‘Academic Impact’, ‘Graduation Ceremony Cancellation Disappointment’, ‘Lost Career Services Opportunities/Job Uncertainty’, ‘Immediate Financial Concerns’, and ‘Physical Health Concerns’. 

Through her analysis, Brownlee covers important concerns such as: anxieties over grades that determine job possibilities or Masters applications, the impact of losing jobs on already struggling students, a sense of emptiness at this milestone which was meant to acknowledge a life of academic achievement, missing graduation ceremonies and finally, the mounting uncertainty over what to do next. Having asked some of the Class of 2020 over social media about their feelings towards their current situation, one graduate told Snippets that they were “scared but excited”, whilst another told us that they were “disappointed that [they] didn’t get to graduate this summer.”

The widespread cancellation of graduation ceremonies disheartened many. As a member of the class of 2020 myself, the cancellation of graduation emphasised the severity of the pandemic. My ceremony was cancelled in the middle of March, and whilst I had gotten comfortable with the idea of isolating for a few months, I hadn’t quite appreciated the longevity of lockdown. Of course, I understood the severity of the situation, however, it was not until I had this milestone cancelled that it hit home. Across the UK, graduation ceremonies have been postponed and rescheduled. Now, with the release of degree qualifications, the realisation for most that this would have been a time of celebration, has forced feelings of unsatisfaction and disappointment to resurface. 

Not only was the end of our academic careers cut short, but so too was saying goodbye to the people we had just spent the past three or so years with. Most students missed their final months of University, specifically the final weeks, when exams were finished, and celebrations could commence. Some students may have stayed on campus in their student houses during the pandemic, meaning they could spend time with their close friends – others had to move home, and some had to find new places to live. For those returning home, the struggle of being under your parents roof again might have been a difficult adjustment – a juxtaposition to the freedom experienced at University. Matched with the current climate, home may have felt a little crowded and overwhelming. Of course, most who those have isolated during the pandemic have experienced this, from working from home to schools being closed and various other scenarios. The pandemic has been responsible for a lot of change and adjustment. 

The next step

Joe Pinsker also discusses graduating in 2020 – in his article ‘The Misfortune of Graduating in 2020’, published on the 22nd May – which adopts an alternative approach; quoting statistics and discussing the Great Recession of 2008. He argues that those who graduated during the Great Recession are “still struggling overall.” Pinsker then follows on to quote statistics from the Pew Research Centre, claiming that forty percent of Millennials in the US have lost their jobs or source of income due to the pandemic, stating that “Graduating right now is a particular form of bad luck, but those who finished school and joined the workforce in recent years aren’t lucky either. Young people, as a group, seem to be taking a harder hit economically than those in older generations.” Overall, he highlights that it is not only those who have graduated that are struggling during this pandemic, but the younger generation as a whole have taken a hit.

The Financial Times on the 4th May published an article titled ‘What are the job prospects for the class of 2020’. This article states that twenty-eight per cent of graduates in the UK have had jobs offers ‘rescinded or delayed starts’ and in the US four per cent of employers have withdrawn offers, whilst twenty per cent of employers are contemplating doing the same and twenty-one per cent have cancelled their internships altogether. The process of applying for jobs after graduation is already stressful, it can sometimes take hundreds of failed applications before a graduate finds work. On top of this, employers, especially during this time, are providing little to no feedback on rejected applications, leaving the applicant with an unsuccessful attempt and no constructive criticism. Graduates may now be battling with what career path to take, whether one should only apply for jobs that are of great interest, simply be applying to any job – by reasoning that any work is better than no work – or questioning if sticking to higher education is the answer.

What to do next?

For those looking to enter the professional world, be sure to consider the following points: keep on top of your LinkedIn profile; try not to fixate on your dream career so much so that it begins to take a negative toll on your mental health; and unsuccessful job applications are okay and common. 

The ‘panic masters’ is a term that has been circulating social media platforms recently. Some students had already applied for their Masters before the lockdown, whilst others have chosen to apply as they have released staying at University is the best path for them, as graduate jobs are scarce, and a Masters is better than unemployment. Staying in education in the current climate, for some, seems the best option and will hopefully work for them. However, it is not suited to everyone, and those who aren’t staying on have various paths they can take. Whether it is finding part-time work whilst you figure things out, going into full-time employment straight away, travelling (if and where possible), working until your Masters, or simply taking a step back and thinking about the next stage in your life, this is a difficult time and any path or emotion is valid. 

Graduating in a pandemic is scary and uncertain. It is important to remember that even without the pandemic this milestone would’ve felt intimidating, so try your best to keep yourself afloat, set goals and don’t’ be too hard on yourself. 

Some Graduate Job Websites you might find helpful:

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