The class of 2020 feels quite blah, to be honest

Sheltering in space instead of celebrating convocation means finishing a degree looks a lot different.

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TIM MOSSHOLDER PHOTO
  • Tim Mossholder photo
May in Halifax usually means a few things: The leaves come back in Point Pleasant Park after a long winter away; The Public Gardens become a living Monet painting stuffed with blooms; Halifax's student population shifts and jolts towards new beginnings as degrees wrap up and graduations draw near.

While the ending of one chapter always leaves a feeling of uncertainty, few other grads have ever had to wonder what's next the way the class of 2020 will. On the week that would've been convocation for many, we caught up with five new grads to ask how it feels.

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Ann Lin celebrated the end of her Dental Hygiene program by throwing a zoom party with her classmates. She should’ve had a convocation to attend on May 21 instead, but since COVID-19 caused campuses to shutter, an online party would have to do. “It’s definitely connected me more with my classmates,” Lin says of learning and graduating during a pandemic. “It’s been a lot of FaceTime meetings, zoom calls, late-night calls and texts, tagging each other in pictures.”

It feels like it won’t be until 2021 that Lin will be able to hit the workforce and job hunt in earnest. “There are a lot of feelings—I think I went through a rollercoaster there for awhile,” she says. “You just take it one day at a time but you have these moments where you're like ‘was this the right choice going into this program? is there job security once this is over?’ A lot of regret and also a bittersweet end to two years of work.”

It doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel over. But it is: “I went to campus yesterday to clean out my locker, which was just the saddest thing.”

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Catie Mace had big plans for the best season: “I was dreaming of this amazing, last university summer before I start my real life and now I feel like I don’t have that transition,” the Bachelor of Social Work grad explains. “I’ve moved back in with my parents. I lost one of my jobs with COVID. It’s a little painful at times because I definitely went through the past four years, I had this idea set in my mind and now that it’s all changed it feels a little anti-climatic,” she says. “I was working three jobs and going to school this year so I could have this nice relaxing summer—and I’m certainly relaxed during quarantine, but not the way I wanted to.”

(Yes, she knows others have it worse, adding: “Sometimes I’m sad and upset that I didn’t get to have the thing I was working for but then I’m also thinking about the broader scope of what’s happening in the world right now and there’s a lot of people who have lost a lot more than an epic summer or a graduation day.”)

With a summer job on pause and her plans for school in the fall feeling less certain, Mace sums it up: “My school is having this online convocation, but I don’t even think the majority of the people in my class are going to participate in it—because it’s not the same, you know? For me personally, I’m not going to get the same feeling of watching this online thing as with my actual convocation and walking across that stage,” she explains. “It’s just—I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s just not it, it’s not what I was looking for. I wasn’t dreaming this whole four years of having a 30-minute zoom call with the Dal chancellor.”

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“When I graduated from Saint Mary’s in 2013, the economy was really bad for teaching—it seemed like a waste of money so I didn’t go into it,” starts Julie Cameron, who’s just graduating from her Bachelor of Education degree this month. “I worked a number of other jobs; I worked in the banking industry for a number of years, and it finally started to turn around in 2017-2018 and I was like OK, now’s a good time to go into teaching. So, I decided to go back to school,” she says before calling it “a big decision,” as her household’s income structure would have to change while she became a full-time student.

Now, of course, Cameron’s dreams are on pause again—because as she reminds us, school in September is still being discussed and “You can’t get a subbing job right now because they don’t need substitutes and everything’s online.”

“This year was the year I’d been waiting for, 2020 was. All the sacrifices of the last three or four years, this year was the reward from all that hard work,” she adds. “A lot of people have lost a lot of things this year. I just spent $18,000 on a degree that I hope still has a career in September—but it’s gonna be impossible to say until they tell us.”

“The Mount has offered to do a grad in the Fall if gatherings are even allowed by then but it just feels irrelevant,” Cameron says. “Like, I was supposed to graduate a week ago today and it already feels irrelevant. It’s over, it’s done—it feels like a moment in time you just never get back.”

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“It’s very different than I saw April and May to look like back in February,” says Shana Graves, who moved into a new, more central apartment in May as her Bachelor of Education wrapped up and she began prepping to substitute teach more. Graves made the jump to study education after thinking of how her time teaching in Japan in the 2010s made her feel.

She’s nervous about finances, about what opportunities her new career might have left.

But she’s staying positive: “I’ve been using this time to think about and make steps towards the type of person I want to be in The After, whereas when you’re working and worrying about school and whatever you’re worrying about in The Before, you just don’t have time to work on yourself and grow,” she explains. “So that’s been a big thing for me: Just making myself a better person.”

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Katie Billard, like all of us, doesn’t quite know how to explain how it feels to live through COVID-19. “I would just say weird—it’s the first thing I can think of,” the Bachelor of Arts student says. “We are connected and even if something is going on somewhere else, we all need to work together—and this virus has kind of taught us that.”

Finishing her honours thesis this spring, Billard planned to go on to take her Master’s this fall in Montreal or Ottawa—plans she’s shelved for a year: “I’m going to wait to next fall because both those places, Ottawa and Montreal, have been really hit by the pandemic and I want to give them time to recover.”

“With graduating at this time, it feels kind of odd because I was expecting more celebration—all the events that were planned, and now it kind of is like ‘maybe I did finish, maybe I didn’t, maybe I’m on summer vacation’,” she continues.

Hours before her phone call with The Coast, Billard watched her live, virtual grad. “The virtual graduation had all the names of those of us graduating and it felt like ‘yes! now I finally feel like I’m graduating’,” she says—making up for the flat feeling of just picking up your parchment across the street. “They let them scroll up the screen like Star Wars, it as exciting waiting for your name to go up—it did make it feel a little more better about graduating. I knew my family was watching at home and my friends were watching and that everyone was gonna see my name scroll across that screen at the same time,” Billard adds. “At least everyone got to see my name who knows me; just like if they got to see me walk across that stage.”

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