To the spring convocation that never was.

It’s not exactly what I imagined for the class of 2020. 

We should have had our last lectures, award galas, capstone projects, and of course, convocation ceremonies. But this year, things feel a lot different. 

June was supposed to be a celebratory time. My family was set to fly out and watch their oldest daughter walk, and hopefully not trip, across the stage. I had plans to study abroad in May, then go backpacking in Europe with my best friend. Like some, I had job leads I was excited about. Everything was unfolding nicely.

Enter COVID-19. 

I remember first hearing about COVID-19 in January. Suffering from yet another holiday food-coma, I caught myself scrolling through Facebook and came across a meme. Something ignorant about ordering clothes online and having “the coronavirus” on the package. Eight likes. 

At the time, everyone in my circle was unbothered. Surely, it was just another flu outbreak. Those happen semi-regularly, right? 

As the weeks went on, the numbers rose. The world watched as Wuhan, China, launched extreme lockdown measures. I went to LA in February with friends. With four confirmed cases in California at the time, we were a tad fearful, yet blissfully unaware of what was to come. 

My last day of regular class was Friday, March 13. An eerie coincidence, in retrospect. I had gone to my 8 a.m. class, went to the gym, and met up with my EMERGE co-lead in the Learning Commons to smooth out details for our capstone project, EMERGE. Then the notification popped up on my phone: EMERGE had been cancelled. Classes were moving online. On-campus services shuttered. Rumours of cancelling convocation began. 

I walked home that day, not knowing it would be the last time I set foot on campus as an undergraduate. That night I lay in my bed, numb. Nothing seemed real. I felt paralyzed. 

There were tears, lots of tears. There was anger, grief, and a whole lot of confusion. “This wasn’t our fault, I hate that we’re the victims,” a friend said over Facetime. It felt unfair. My mind began swirling like some sort of manic Post-Impressionism painting.

I hustled in high school to get excellent grades. The scholarships I earned funded my dream to study in Toronto. Four years of focus, grinding, late nights with one vision in mind—walking across the stage and gripping that sweet, sweet degree-diploma I was promised. It’s tough having that taken away from you as a graduate. 

For anyone in the same boat, I’m giving you the biggest internet hug right now. 

Now 4,000 km away back at my parents’ place, I’m scrambling to figure my life out. One by one, my friends are getting laid off. My graduating cohort is feeling the pressure. Those of us who’ve applied for jobs are likely getting emails back with talks of hiring freezes. CERB and EI deposits are rolling in slowly, but even those stimuli offer no guarantee about the future.  

More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in March, the highest in one month since records began in 1976. Unemployment is the highest it’s been since 1997. Ontario Premier Doug Ford recently announced physical distancing measures will be in place for another 28 days

This certainly isn’t an easy time for Canadians.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to predict what the next four or even twelve months will look like. Things are changing rapidly, and what we know today could change in an instant. Normal life, as we once knew, will likely not return.

After three weeks of feeling sorry for myself, I’ve come to terms with this new reality. This isn’t just an unprecedented time—it’s an opportunity cloaked in cynicism. Never in our lives have we been asked to stay home glued to our devices. 

Silver linings for a grey world

It’s rocky waters out there, for sure. But here’s the thing. 

This period of isolation and job uncertainty is only a season. Like spring turns to summer, and the autumn leaves follow. We may not know when, but this will end eventually. 

And if you’re manic about the plummeting stock market and lay-offs, listen to this: if history proves itself as a trustworthy predictor, recessions have served as launchpads for some of our favourite businesses. Microsoft, HP, IBM, and even Disney all got their start in unfavourable times. Adversity and opportunity have a way of attracting each other. 

Sure we had the Great Depression in the 1930s, and the 2008-09 Recession—but did you know there were about 11 smaller recessions in between? Eleven seasons, if you will. 

I know it feels like everything we’ve worked toward has slipped from our grip. The collective stress and anxiety we’re facing is nothing to be ashamed of. We are quite literally living through a history lesson as we speak. And while that may offer little financial comfort, it’s a gentle reminder that humans simply can’t control everything. 

As an eager grad, it’s challenging to sit still when all you want to do is live out your career hopes and dreams. But this period of social distancing doesn’t have to mean distancing yourself from future opportunities. 

Laptop and and iPad screen with COVID-19 news on it
Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

Advice from 2008’s recession grads

Like any “Zoomer” (Gen Zer), I did some digging to find validation for my feelings. That led me to numerous articles from millennials who graduated during the last recession in 2008-09. 

Here’s what some of them had to say:

  1. Think of your career like a river, not a ladder. Instead of picturing your profession as a ladder you have to scramble up, think of it like a river you must navigate. When water moves fast, you have to hold on tight. But when it slows to a lull, perhaps like during a recession, you have to get creative and choose a different path. Your job hunt is no different.
  2. Apply, apply, apply. If you’re like me, chances are you’re nervous as heck for your job prospects. According to millennials who graduated in the last financial recession, the best thing we can do is apply to anything and everything we can. 
  3. Embrace part-time and temporary work. A lot of us don’t fantasize about living with our parents forever. No judgement if you do. But if your goal is to save up and move out, then embracing a temporary or part-time position might be the ticket to keeping you afloat until the next opportunity. You may not be where you want to be right now, but it’s one step closer to where you’re trying to go. 
  4. Live frugally. This is such an underrated piece of advice. If you can help it, live at home. But if you can’t, banding together with friends can help you save money on living expenses. There’s no need to live outside of your means, especially now.
  5. Lean on your friends, siblings, and connections. Grads, we may be struggling, but we’re struggling together. While you panic over the uncertain job market, don’t forget to check-in on your fellow classmates or older millennial siblings—who are enduring just as much. Community care matters now more than ever.
neon sign that reads 'everything is going to be alright'
Photo by Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash

Pushing forward, together.

We’re entering a new normal, friends. But hey, perhaps it won’t be so bad. Do we really need to go back to normal? Or should we push for a new normal? Only time will tell.

While COVID-19 and the 2020 recession is hard for everyone, the pandemic is affecting graduating college and university students a little differently. Not only have we been robbed of precious celebratory milestones, but we’re also being thrust into an uncertain job market. 

Juggling between the assumption that I control my destiny and clinging to a harrowing emotional cliffside with chewed fingernails, I know I’m not alone. 

While I’m trying to maintain a positive outlook, the truth is, I’m scared as hell. 

If you take anything from reading this it should be this: growth is painful. 

Moving on from relationships, jobs, and yes, economic recessions amid a global pandemic, is painful. But nothing good ever came from comfort zones. 

Grads, if we can get through this period, we will demonstrate a fortitude like no other. Be flexible, be kind, and be grateful knowing we are all weathering this insatiable storm together. 

This, too, shall pass.

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