Graduating in a Pandemic

I remember in February when I was telling my mom about the spreadsheet I set up to keep track of all the jobs I was applying to, to prepare for graduation. I remember setting aside a day to plan out my bullet journal all the way through May because I knew exactly what was coming up in my calendar. My entire family was on the cusp of new change—a wedding, a career change, and two graduations in the same year. 2020 was going be our year, everyone could just feel it. Then March rolled around and headlines started to change. I worked at my part time job and assured customers: “Oh, we are doing what we can to stay clean, but we really don’t think things will get that bad,” we promised. “The summer heat will take care of the virus.”

I remember in the beginning of March when my internship went remote. I remember when my hours at work went from 16 to less than four a week.  I remember being excited about an extended spring break, refusing to give a second thought to the cause. As quickly as the jokes about toilet paper shortages started, so did the gravity of the situation.

I remember calling my mom, scared, telling her I should move out of my apartment and back home because I would get severely depressed, isolated in quarantine. It was after the first week of moving home, the first week my school went back in session, and three weeks of staying home, that I had my first break down. I recollected myself, I made plans with my parents for the new future, and I felt fine.

Over the course of the following week four of my friends reached out to talk about what was going on. It took less than a minute before each one spiraled into tears.

We are all scared.

School is online now, and it can feel pointless—especially to my sister who is taking art classes that had finals that required museum exhibits. I do have a new respect for my classmates who boldly (and obviously) ignore the lectures without turning off their video.

This is the semester my friends and I graduate. One in California had to move because she was living with two immunocompromised individuals, and she didn’t want to risk them. Another told me how they feel guilty because they have graduate school to save them from the mess of the real world. But many are like me: unable to get income, denied a stimulus check and our student debt waiting for the interest to start back up, our future on hold.

People keep telling me to live one day at a time, and I get that sentiment, I believe it, but it doesn’t always help those like me. In a few weeks we won’t have school, and we aren’t like others who know they will have another semester or year—even if there is uncertainty of how it’ll happen. We aren’t like those who have jobs already, or those who know they will be starting a job soon. In a few weeks our efforts will be focused on trying to waste the day away until we reach the day we can start living again. The same activities we enjoyed in our down time become a constant reminder of what we cannot do. We can search for jobs, and I do, but there are not many. And in the mess of all this we watch the unemployment rate rapidly rise.

We can easily allow this hollow feeling to consume us, but inside I know that not just me, but the entire class of 2020, is strong. We may be suffering, but we suffer together, and we survive together.

My classes may cut out mid-session due to a bad internet connection, but my professors still email daily. My friends may be stuck inside, but we still talk every day. I miss their faces, and Zoom isn’t the same, but we are still together.

I can’t walk in my graduation, but I can still dress up and take pictures in my yard. And once my diploma arrives in the mail, you can bet that I’ll have my family hold a small graduation ceremony with a Zoom party everyone can attend.

Normal is something we create, and hope is something we can always hold. Despite these times, I have to acknowledge that I am one of the lucky ones. I have a family I can stay with, my parents still have their jobs, and despite how lonely I can feel, I know I have a wonderful support system. The future is uncertain, and I don’t have the tools to plan for it like I did two months ago, but I can do what I can—and hopefully help others in the process.

 

By Caitlin Hall

BAERING Intern, Spring 2020

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