GRADUATING IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

By Esme Brooker

As one of the lucky ones who had secured a job pre-COVID-19 for a company that is able to continue its work remotely and has become my second family, I neither fell victim to the last-one-in-first-one-out mentality that many companies employ when difficult times necessitate cutting down on staff, nor was I hurt by being a hopeful job applicant a handful of months out of school still searching for employment.

While I happened to start working right away, many of my friends and classmates took time off after graduating, some to study for standardized tests in preparation for future graduate school, some to travel or spend some time at home with their families, and some just to take a last school length summer break before charging into full time work, with the intent of beginning the job search in the fall. I also knew many people who began the job search right after or even slightly before graduation, but employment prospects are always competitive, and it took some of my friends a bit of time to get the hang of navigating the hiring process for their first full-time jobs. It is clear to me that for whatever the personal reasons, it is definitely not uncommon for recent graduates to still be searching for full-time employment by the new year following their graduation. With the national economy on the brink of crisis and with many businesses either temporarily shut down or on hiring hiatus as they adapt to remote operations, not to mention the health threats posed by interviewing and the reticence of employers to hire applicants that have never been met in person, many of my graduating classmates find themselves faced with the seemingly impossible task of job searching during a pandemic, with bills and student loans looming.

Like many other recent graduates, I spent months after my graduation studying to take the LSAT, with the intention of beginning law school in the fall of 2020 after taking a gap year to gain work experience and save up as much as I possibly could for tuition. This is a goal that has now been thrown into question and turmoil for me along with thousands of other prospective grad students around the country. Standardized tests such as LSAT’s and GRE’s have been cancelled, rescheduled and reformatted left and right. As universities have had to jump into overdrive trying to adapt to online courses for existing students and navigate the implications of the current academic conditions for future applicants, those of us who applied in the months before the pandemic wait in tense apprehension for understandably delayed admissions decisions and confirmation that we will be able to begin a new chapter of our educations in the fall, all while deposit deadlines creep closer.

In addition to the economic and educational struggles faced by us recent graduates that continue to be exacerbated by the COVID-19 state of affairs, a perhaps less severe but still very prominent challenge we are dealing with is the social transition away from the supportive network of friends and peers that was abundant when we were living at college or university. While some students remain geographically close to their undergraduate institutions, many return to hometowns as I did, or move on their own to different towns or cities in pursuit of employment opportunities like several of my friends. The loss of social support that accompanies leaving college is a very real and often shocking change after four years of daily access to our friends and peers, and I had been clinging to opportunities to visit with my friends as often as possible, a possibility that is now virtually erased as we all quarantine with our households. For some of us this means spending their days with roommates or family, but others are completely alone.

For many reasons we are very lucky to have cell phones, email, and video chat at our disposal. These digital tools allow many of us to continue to work and retain a steady income, income that for many recent grads is essential for necessities such as food and rent or earmarked for future graduate school tuition.  For my friends currently taking graduate school classes, or planning to shortly like I am, options for online classes, while not ideal, make it possible to continue on our educational trajectories without months-long disruptions. Finally, these tools allow us to cling to social connectedness and see and talk to people outside of our immediate households. Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly a difficult and uncertain time for recent grads, along with the rest of the world. I am amazed at the resiliency and creativity that I have seen from my family, friends, coworkers, and peers, and am grateful for the support and togetherness that everyone is striving for amidst the quarantine.