Coronavirus and the Class of 2020

Chloe’s uni life finished back at home due to COVID. Here’s how she’s feeling about her uni experience

When your university experience comes to an end, your world changes overnight. No longer do you have the security of your student loan, the late-night study sessions or the constant company of the people who made your university experience what it was. For most students, this change is simultaneously daunting and exciting. However, in a time when the world around us is changing so dramatically and irreversibly, the added pressure of the transition to life after graduation can be overwhelming.

In a time when the world around us is changing so dramatically and irreversibly, the added pressure of the transition to life after graduation can be overwhelming.

Unlike previous cohorts, our university life faded away like a distant memory. Instead of the definitive end we were promised, what we had come to expect from university life warped and transformed in the face of our changing world into something we no longer recognised. Lectures were cancelled on and off for months with strike action, and slowly more and more modules moved away from face-to-face teaching, until one day we were left working from home, many of us spread across the world. There will be no monumental moment for our families to proudly immortalise in film. Graduation will be me, sat alone in my pyjamas, handing in my last piece of coursework at the last possible moment, and receiving an emailed certificate a few weeks later. I never got to say goodbye to many of my course mates. We are scattered around the world with our unspoken goodbyes, isolated physically and mentally, without a final event to bring us all together.

Graduation will be me, sat alone in my pyjamas, handing in my last piece of coursework at the last possible moment, and receiving an emailed certificate a few weeks later.

The news has been rife with headlines about how bleak the future looks for the class of 2020. For some, graduation has come early, and they have been catapulted into the front line to fight coronavirus and support our stretched public services. For others, news of recruitment freezes mean that it might be a long time before they gain any sense of job security or stable income. More students than ever are graduating without the promise of a comfortable graduate job.

Being an aspiring journalist, I was already prepared for the uphill battle of competing with my talented peers for scarce jobs. Picking such a competitive industry was not something I took lightly and was fully aware of the financial insecurity I would face. But nothing could have prepared me to tackle my already-unaccommodating industry of choice during a global pandemic. The normal worries when applying for jobs are overshadowed by a very real threat. There is something truly farcical about spending days writing a killer application, only to find out that the company has shut down all together due to Covid-19 just days later. Applying for jobs is an exhausting and time-consuming process at the best of times, but for the class of 2020 it has become almost a cosmic joke.

There is something truly farcical about spending days writing a killer application, only to find out that the company has shut down all together due to Covid-19 just days later.

There is nothing like a crisis to highlight inequality, and I have never been so painfully aware of economic hardship in this country and my own lack of financial stability. I see my parents scrambling to get money together so that I can afford to keep dreaming of the career I want, even when their own livelihood hangs by a thread. I look at my growing list of bills and student debt and wonder if I will ever be able to repay it. It’s easy to doubt yourself and your abilities to succeed when hope is not forthcoming.

Coming from an area where participation in higher education is low and poverty and unemployment are high, I thought that a degree would guarantee me a seat at the table. My decision to go to university was cold and clinical: it meant I would never have to worry about money. That bubble has now burst, and it’s hard to see the benefit of all my work when I cannot even get my foot on the ladder that I thought I would be climbing by now.

Coming from an area where participation in higher education is low and poverty and unemployment are high, I thought that a degree would guarantee me a seat at the table.

However, what I gained from university is worth more than money. I look back on my time there with pure unadulterated nostalgia. I remember turning up at university and being so disappointed because it was nothing like I wanted it to be, but it was what I needed. My love affair with academics was a slow burner: I put too much pressure on myself to excel from the get-go, expecting myself to live up to the stereotypical university experience we see in the media. Once I accepted that it was never going to meet my expectations, it became the most beautiful opportunity for growth and self-discovery. I have learnt things that will continue to fascinate me, I have met people who have seen me transform from a shy child into a self-assured adult, and who will continue to watch me grow as I will them. University is a once in a lifetime experience to prioritise independent learning, without the usual constraints of adult life. It is the perfect incubator to produce people who are perfectly capable of handling anything that life after graduation can throw at them.

I am learning to be more resilient that I thought possible and I am learning to get up again when life throws me a gut-punch.

After all, in times of uncertainty we must try and find the positives. Being unwilling to give up my dream of being a journalist despite near-certain unemployment and difficulty shows me that I am driven, committed, and uncompromising. When the holy grail of a job interview comes around, I will be able to sit in front of a potential employer and tell them that I never stopped fighting for what I wanted. I am learning to be more resilient that I thought possible and I am learning to get up again when life throws me a gut-punch, which it will undoubtedly do. I am learning what matters to me and what I value, and I am cherishing my craft more than ever because I know that it is worth facing the uncertainty head on for.

My world now is messy, it’s colourful and chaotic, complex, terrifying, but more beautiful than anything I’ve ever known.

I am graduating with less direction than I had when I first started my degree, but I see this as a good thing. With all the knowledge I have gained, I have found more and more questions to ask, and that is the beauty of learning – it never ends. Before my degree I saw the world in black and white. You got into university, you worked hard, you got a career that was perfectly laid out for you. But my world now is messy, it’s colourful and chaotic, complex, terrifying, but more beautiful than anything I’ve ever known. Covid-19 has been a rude awakening, but without the constraints of a plan I am free to discover myself and I’m learning to embrace the uncertainty. Life after graduation will not be easy but I will recover and I will learn from it, because after all university is just preparation and life is the real lesson. Despite being confined to my home, I will not put my dreams on lockdown.

Have you finished your degree during lockdown? How are you feeling now? Let us know in the comments.

Support more young people to have their voices heard

Rife is Watershed‘s online magazine created for young people, by young people.

We offer paid internships and publish work by young writers, photographers, illustrators, and filmmakers from all sorts of backgrounds, helping them get into creative careers. Rife has reached over 8,000 young people through our workshops, over 220 young people have made stuff for Rife on topics ranging from mental health to identity to baked beans, and last year, over 200,000 people visited our website.

In these complex and uncertain times hearing from and supporting young people who are advocating for social change and contributing fresh perspectives has never been so important. 

Through supporting Rife you can ensure that this important work continues and that more young people have their voices heard.