What follows is a free composite of my own thoughts and those of fellow Class of 2020 members whom I've talked to.
Graduating is always a big change. What makes your situation even more so?
Well, it's hard to know where to start. You kind of get into a groove during your four years of undergrad, feeling like your college is the center of your universe—sure, you do things off campus, too, but the campus is still your symbolic home. (At least that's how it felt to me.) The Commencement ceremony is a nice ceremonial gesture indicating your farewell to that stage in life, and it all feels unfinished without that—like we're in limbo. Of course, I guess all recent college grads feel for a bit like they're stuck in a liminal space, and I don't know what it's like to graduate at any other moment in time, but I feel like the COVID situation really exaggerates everything. That might be a good thing; it keeps you from hiding your bewilderment from yourself; life is certainly full of bewilderment, and maturing probably has a lot to do with recognizing that, so maybe this will give us all some extra help towards maturing.
What was your very first reaction to your school's confirmation that the second half of the semester would be online?
My first thought was that it's like we're living in a simulation, a simulacrum—some kind of dream state. That feeling has sort of dissipated since then, but it will probably stick around as an undercurrent in everything I do for a good long time—sort of like we're all in an episode of The Twilight Zone and know it and won't forget it any time soon.
What advice do you have for incoming freshman?
Gosh, I don't know where to begin. You never know what to expect as a freshman, so you always look up to upperclassmen to set an example and to help direct you. As everyone repeats ad nauseam, these are unprecedented times, so I can't think how to address the situation of incoming freshmen except by saying that they should trust that their education is still worth it and look forward to the best. No one knows what's going to happen next, and that's exciting—after all, you don't know as a normal freshman either. There's no use in approaching anything with a negative mindset.
Any final thoughts?
Well, there's definitely the anxiety about the economy and finding a job and planning for an uncertain future. That kind of goes without saying, and it's important. The real funny thing as a recent graduate, though, is that it feels almost like this situation was waiting in the shadows ever since we began four years ago. None of us could have anticipated it, but it now feels like it couldn't possibly have been any other way.