By Caitlin McBride
Caitlin McBride is a senior communications major at the University of Minnesota. After growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she came to campus and started working at Walter Library during freshman year. Caitlin loves spending time at Walter, collaborating with friends, writing, and biking around campus and the Twin Cities.
I am a graduating senior right now in spring 2020. My last months of classes (ever) have been moved online. My extracurriculars have been slashed prematurely. And my graduation has turned virtual. I spent the night of my 22nd birthday sitting around my kitchen bar with only my roommates and a loaf of sourdough bread our neighbor had dropped off on our front porch.
On a family Zoom call that day, my mom asked me if I was going to make it to the graduation finish line. I answered, half sarcastically, with concerns over my lack of motivation to attend “Zoom university.”
My dad joked, “You won’t even need a degree anymore, the world is changing!”
Of course, I’m still going to work for the remainder of the semester. After almost four years of getting up early, working through a busier and busier schedule each semester, and braving every treacherous winter without a car, I am not about to just forget about all the hard work I put into my courses.
Still, I ponder his point. The stress of graduating college, to me, always seemed to stem from finding a good job, paying off student loans, and navigating life without all the structure and resources that a university offers. That’s still all there. But the recent pandemic and consequent recession have brought a gnawing question to the back of my mind, “Was the past four years worth anything at all?” “Am I ever going to be ‘essential?’” Starting a career, not just during the pandemic, but afterwards, after the economy tanks, businesses shut down, and our society has to build itself into something different and new, feels impossible to grasp.
Not alone in feeling this way
I asked other seniors their thoughts on graduating in the midst of this global crisis. Everyone feels their own specific type of anxiety and anger, but two things stuck out to me the most: graduating seniors feel cheated of an ending, and quite pessimistic about what comes next.
One friend simply said, “It sucks because everything is suddenly over and we get no closure.”
With no graduation ceremony, no final days in the classroom, no goodbyes to peers and friends, the ending came abruptly and too early.
Another said, “I’m more bummed out that I don’t get to see my friends. The ceremony will happen eventually, but my time with these people is lost forever, which is a shame.”
This comment brought out my nostalgia for all of the good times with friends I have had over the past four years. We, the class of 2020, have lost the last part of our experience together and my friend is right: we won’t get it back.
Another friend pointed out, “It is understandable to feel a sense of loss upon graduation, but that loss is hard to recover from when there is currently not much to hope for or look forward to.”
Throughout college, I had expected that, upon graduation, I would be a total mess. But during this final semester, before everything got canceled, I felt excited. My life felt full of possibilities. Now the future for everyone looks grim, and college students looking for their next move are struggling much more than usual.
Uncertainties and silver linings
Still, the experience is different for all students. Some friends have accepted jobs and are ready to start work upon graduation as planned. Others who had tentative jobs lined up are now uncertain about their future employment. Some job fairs have moved online, suggesting that many companies still intend on hiring. However I have heard talks of it being a better time to go straight to grad school instead.
A friend who had a job lined up mentioned, “I don’t know when my job starts anymore, or when I’ll move to a new city, or officially rent my first apartment.”
The regular expectation for post-grad life, moving somewhere new and gaining new, diverse experiences, has been shattered. On an even graver note, the issue of money is at the forefront of a lot of our minds. Some folks have suggested going to work for Amazon just to make ends meet right now.
A friend mentioned, “I am currently finishing final presentations and papers while figuring out if I qualify for unemployment. Never did I imagine I would have to file unemployment right after graduation. I am worried about money.”
She went on to mention that college students have been left out of the recent government stimulus package, and how forgotten she feels for that. If the idea of paying off student loans over the next couple of years before quarantine began seemed burdensome, now it feels almost impossible.
Meanwhile, another friend pointed out a thin silver lining to graduating during a global pandemic; “I’m happy that I can have this perspective as I start my professional career.”
Their positivity shows that there is much to learn from a time like now. Although we are nearing the end of some pretty formative years, high school and college, what is happening right now is shaping who we — the class of 2020 — are quite drastically.
Missing the class of 2020
I wanted my last college class to be in person in a real classroom, to attend a party for the school literary magazine, to say a heartfelt goodbye to my student group, to sit with my fellow majors at graduation, to enjoy the party my parents planned to throw for me afterwards.
I wanted to watch how the warmth of the springtime on our campus suddenly flips a bright green switch, and the healthy grass on the mall is filled with studiers and sunbathers. I wanted to see everyone walking around, stressed out, but also relieved finally by the sun and the heat and the end of the year. I wanted to bike across the Washington Avenue bridge, looking towards the city as a symbol of my future (even if I probably won’t be working in downtown Minneapolis, it’s about all about the symbolism).
I can still take that bike ride and I will, but I will be alone. Campus will be empty and so will the cityscape I look towards. I will be a little grumpy or maybe sad and nostalgic. I will be pondering all that I have learned on this campus and I will be missing the class of 2020. Probably for a very long time. At least we all made it, Summa Corona.