Courtesy of Kameron Elder on Unsplash
The pandemic has replaced our classrooms with our living rooms, our walks across campus with walks around the neighborhood and our graduating aisle with a drive-thru lane. Fall graduation is typically a smaller event, considering most students graduate in the spring, but this year Biola has combined the ceremony for all 2020 graduates. In December we will graduate socially distanced within our own cars.
While these graduates may be sharing the same stage, fall graduates and spring graduates usually experience the onset of post-grad life differently. During a normal year, a fall graduate may have more opportunities at their disposal than a spring graduate, but amid the pandemic, we are all in the same sinking boat.
A STOLEN MILESTONE
Earning a degree is a defining moment in a student’s life. We have looked forward to photo-ops in our caps and gowns, our names being called from a podium and finally holding our hundred-thousand dollar diploma for our families to see. This exit from education is meant to propel us into a new stage of adulthood and independence. It is one of the only events in life where the ending doubles as a new beginning.
We spent four years building up to this milestone, only for it to be snatched from under our feet. Although we are incredibly lucky to be offered an alternative commencement, it is still a crushing blow to deny us the expectation we have built over the last four years. We will not be wishing farewells to our university in the wake of a roaring applause, but rather to the simple goodbye of a silent wave. The door to college closes behind us without any space for closure.
THE EMPLOYMENT DESERT
Most employers hire in cycles. At the beginning of every year, they plan out an annual budget and every fall they need to prepare for the holiday surge, marking those months as the best time to get hired. For winter graduates, this puts us at a slight advantage under normal circumstances. We apply during the new year’s employment wave with less candidates to compete for jobs. However, spring graduates have the reprieve of summer for internship opportunities and time to apply for fall openings, while winter graduates lack that post-college gap. This leaves them with less time to jump on the job hunt if they are going to be hired right after graduation.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise and companies still struggling to get back on their feet, shopping for a career seems dauntingly bleak. In addition, we are now competing with the spring graduates who have similarly been stranded in unemployment throughout the pandemic. Because of this virus, the milestone of a first real job might be set back for months, or years, for 2020 graduates.
THE SOCIAL BARRIER
The excitement of graduation is always paired with the fear of social separation. Friends disperse across city, state and country lines in pursuit of new lives and careers. We wonder how we will build new relationships outside of future coworkers when our previous friendships flourished in shared classrooms or dorms. Finding new housing and compatible roommates is terrifying without the security of sharing it with another Biola student. Dating becomes more complex than sparking up a conversation with a cute classmate.
For some people the pandemic has eliminated some of these fears, but quarantine has planted new fears in their place. Visiting friends will not only be inconvenient, but possibly unrealistic with lockdowns being reinforced. Forming friendships with coworkers may not be an option if a job only meets remotely. Some may be stuck at their parents’ house because moving out is now unaffordable. Ring by spring—or for winter graduates, planning wedding bouquets by the winter holidays—has been complicated for graduating couples. As for graduating single people, entering adulthood without a significant other to provide that relational stability can seem lonely.
We have already experienced how this pandemic has separated us throughout this year, but at least we have had classes to fill some of that social loss. Graduating will remove that remaining connection.
This pandemic has defined the beginning of our adulthood. Instead of being generic graduates, we will be receiving a degree as survivors of a deadly virus. In the face of our closing college careers it may seem discouraging to miss out on so much, but we cannot predict how this will shape us. Paul promises in Romans 8:28 that “God works for the good of those who love him.” He has the power to bring good out of this unfortunate situation, even for us graduates, if we would only have the patience to see what the “good” turns out to be.