My ears perk up at the sound of yet another email notification. I open it with a precarious fascination, ready to read and ignore it but to my surprise, it's actually relevant to me. It's addressed to the Class of 2021 and included yet another post about how graduation is coming soon and some info on attending virtual workshops in order to prepare for it. But how does one prepare for something they will never feel ready for?
I used to long for the day I graduated college. Pomp and circumstance playing in the background as I walk down the aisle and onto the stage with my fellow graduates, people who happen to be in my year, or me happening to be in theirs since I took an extra few semesters. Decked in my cap and gown (properly paid for), and degree waiting for me at the end of my physical journey from my seat, to the dean or whoever held my certificate. This was how I imagined graduation. But of course, our plans don't mean a thing to a global pandemic.
We're definitely in a better place than we were when it all began. We're learning how to navigate a life of a social distance, which once got used to, extroverted-introverts like me didn't mind too much. And with a sense of SOME protection, slowly venturing out into the world and trying our best to make it "normal" again. But we still have ways to go, in more than social areas, but politically, culturally, and personally I'm sure. To expect us to shift from a fully remote and distant world back to a 9 to 5 hustling and active one is definitely asking the most from a traumatized society.
So I tell myself this when thinking about graduation and the mixed feelings I have about it. I expected it to be a fun, almost carefree time of celebration and parties, hanging out with friends and family, all together physically to commemorate a momentous triumph. But, as most things have been in the past year, It's not the worst thing in the world, I told myself as I got the email saying that there will be a virtual commencement this year. I'll have to settle for a virtual zoom ceremony, no stage to walk besides one I set for myself- which is also okay. My parents won't get the photo-op they wanted but I will get the degree and that's the most important thing.
As for afterwards, I still don't know what that will bring. The job market is still trying to recover from basically being traumatized by the loss of major industries, as lots of jobs transitioned from in-person to remote, as did my learning. The graduates of 2020 & 2021 now have that in mind when looking for work- which format would they prefer? In many ways, it's cool that we have that option but also nerve-wracking, since we don't know exactly how long it'll last. Some solace that I have is that if I'm scared about this, more than I'm excited, that in itself is normal as well. This pandemic is a scary unpredictable time that we will have to probably unpack for years even after its over- but the good thing about living in a major historic moment is that we will have others who understand why we feel the way we do, and can at least relate similar feelings with if not experiences. And in general, most recent college grads, after being in a student practically all of their life, also don't know exactly what they're doing- however, this time around there's an extra understanding and consideration since we have this to deal with as well.
As I scroll through job postings with the "opentowork" hashtag on my LinkedIn profile, I tell myself that it's okay and that I'll figure this out. And I don't have to do it alone. I have a whole generation of current to former students who probably feel the same way. Reaching out to graduates of last year and this year is a way I can feel that solidarity even more. I've also talked to past graduates back in normal years, and they too often have the same feelings of appreciation and apprehension. Its journey and every new journey has an air of trepidation and fear- but it's a healthy fear, to drive us to go above the only potential we think we possess and strive towards a better version of ourselves.
I say we make graduates of the 2020-2021 support group to unpack all of this together. Regardless, from one soon-to-be graduate to another, congratulations. You not only graduated but graduated despite having your life being flipped upside down, inside out, and sideways. Whether you know what the next step is, or not, be proud that you've made it through and have that piece of paper that says you can do things. You more than deserve it.