Graduating during a pandemic and a 2020 reflection.

To say that this last year didn’t go as planned would be the understatement (and cliché) of the century. Saying that only scratches the surface.

In reality, 2020 has left me with an abundance of mixed thoughts and emotions that I’ve spent the last couple months (if not longer) trying to unpack and make sense of.

Before I even get into any of that and bring up the elephant in the room *ahem* coronavirus, let’s just acknowledge the fact that this year literally felt a decade long. Each month could have been its own year.

I also want to say that regardless of the events that transpired this year, this year was going to be difficult for me based alone in the fact that I graduated from my university this year. That’s quite a milestone that calls for a life change and its own set of difficulties in navigating.

Never mind trying to navigate through it in the midst of a pandemic.

January of 2020 found me embarking on my final semester of schooling for my Bachelors. I was feeling ready to graduate. I was enjoying and growing in my part time job and spending time with friends. It was my final semester of serving as the Editor-in-Chief of a publication on my campus. I was getting really excited about the field I planned to go into after graduating as I took my first marketing class this semester and really enjoyed my public relations course that semester too. I was planning on a little break after school to travel and enjoy life as still pretty recently turned 21 year old and then to jump into a career. Looking back, it’s almost eerie how normal life felt. At the time, corona was just a topic my marketing professor would talk about in relation to the stock market before he started lectures. Not an immediate threat that would soon lock us up in our homes for months.

March rolled around, and with it, so did spring break among other things. Looking back, spring break really felt like a last hurrah of sorts because a week or two after I came home from that vacation news of the first confirmed cases in my state sent us into a frenzy. It’s crazy how quickly I went from being on one of the best trips of 2020, living it up in Chicago with my friends to my world literally flipping upside down in a way I never have experienced before. That trip to Chicago is still a highlight of the whole year for me. I am so thankful it happened and just in time. It was filled with adventure and movie moments and lived up to the standard I set for everything I wanted to experience this year.

I remember that night of the first confirmed cases vividly. Breaking news reports on the television had group chats I was in blowing up my phone with panic and uncertainty. Within a week, school was cancelled and moving to online and the store I worked at closed temporarily. Both of the institutions of my daily life and routine, work and school, either became nonexistent to some capacity or changed completely.

Thus, came the era of masks and video chats. I didn’t see friends. I barely saw my boyfriend. Everything was closed. It was still cold outside. My sleep schedule didn’t exist. Anxiety hit when I entered grocery stores. My days were filled with Netflix and Animal Crossing. There was a lack of separation between personal home life and my education. Seriously, shout out to all the moms who decided to vacuum the entire house when their kid’s abnormal psych professor was trying to talk about substance abuse disorders via Zoom.

It was also during March that I lost my grandfather (not to the virus). That was really hard. He lived on another continent and with travel restrictions due to the virus, there was no way for us to come together as a family during this time. My mom couldn’t go grieve with her mother because this virus changed everything about the way we live life. I was overwhelmed with guilt at the time of not visiting sooner, of not making more phone calls, of not making family more of a priority. And I cried a lot.

March was an emotional roller-coaster that started at the top of a giant hill and plummeted to the bottom. That was the ride. And I wanted to get off desperately.

April and May blurred together for the most part. Lots of struggles to tune into online lectures took place (courtesy of senioritis paired with the pandemic). The lock down in my state kept being extended with no end in sight. The end of April was significant though because it meant graduation.

If you told me as a freshman that this is how graduation would look for my class, I, one, wouldn’t believe you, and two, tell you to put down all the dystopian young adult fiction novels.

My ceremony was cancelled. The event that was a symbolic celebration and culmination of the hard work I put in the last four years was postponed. I didn’t know at the time, but it would be postponed twice more. So essentially, class of 2020 was cancelled.

I tried to remedy this by ordering my cap and gown anyway and dressing up on what was supposed to be the day of and taking pictures in my driveway. Had to find a way to celebrate somehow.

And while the cancellation of a ceremony was tragic, that isn’t what I struggled most with. I struggled with losing the community I felt physically being on campus. Down to seeing friends, walks, food, my favorite study areas, working in my office on the publication… I never got to say goodbye. I think that’s one of the hardest things for someone like me who gets so nostalgic, sappy, and sentimental. I put in four years of memories and hard work in this place and one day, I just stopped. There was no walking out of your last final and out of a building one last time. There was no picking up your cap and gown at the bookstore. No last meal on campus. I like to count and relish in my lasts. And I couldn’t because at the time, I didn’t know my lasts all happened around midterms in February. So just like that I took my last final at 7pm on a Tuesday night in my bedroom, and school just dwindled off. No closure. No sense of completeness. No graduation ceremony. Just a degree mailed to my house. My school of course tried to remedy this by recognizing grads in a unique way online, but frankly while the efforts were appreciated, there is no adequate substitute for the real thing here.

Coping with graduation is hard enough. Graduating brings on a life change all on its own as we transition from an academic setting to that of a career. That alone is enough to cast shadows of confusion, fear, doubt, and a lack of belonging. Finishing college under these extraordinary circumstances in an uncertain job landscape only amplifies these negative feelings and thoughts of worry tenfold. And that has been my primary struggle this year. Feeling like I failed, fearing that if I haven’t yet that I am bound to, struggling to digest and accept my literal graduation, worrying if I am making the right choice given the state of the world right now, questioning if I am on the right path. I am not one to compare myself to others, but I have found myself looking to my other friends who have graduated and asking myself if I’m doing thing wrong or should I be in a similar spot that they are.

Thoughts similar to these and more bounce around my head constantly and they have since completing school. I never feel satisfied or sure. School was easy in a sense that there was blueprint. You knew exactly what was expected and what the end result was. As someone who has always thrived in an academic setting, I took comfort in this.

There is no blueprint for post-graduation. Everyone drafts and executes their own. The struggle lies in trying to draft one that takes into account the plans and goals you have and how they align with or need to adapt to how the pandemic has affected your post-grad plans like travel, for example. I guess my doubt has come from wondering if I am adapting in the best way. Feeling like there’s a chance I might not be, and worrying about that. I think that’s what it comes down to.

Graduation was meant to be its own blog post that I never got around to. Kind of works out, because now I can reflect on it through the lens of the aftermath that followed wrapping up school.

Still there was more to this year. I spent a lot of it going on walks and hiking, somethings that I actually really enjoy and want to do more of this year. Cases and deaths were dropping, and by the end of June, the lock down was lifting it was time for me to go back to work at my part time job.

Having a sense of routine again was comforting. My job changed drastically, if not completely due to COVID. That was difficult to cope with because I genuinely loved my job before the pandemic. I came back and felt completely lost. I felt like I lost my place, no longer belonged, and wasn’t happy with what I was doing. That was difficult and tough conversations were had as well as tears shed. The future of what my role looked like was uncertain. Nevertheless, I tried to be as flexible and positive as I could.

With the state reopening, a small group of friends and I decided to go on a lake vacation at the end of July. This was another highlight of my year. A chill week in a cabin with good company, food, drinks, and being on a giant inflatable flamingo on the water each day (this last part is not a joke). A dream come true in the midst of the nightmare this year had been so far. It felt free and happy.

August rolled around. Pretty uneventful aside from the fact that I got sick. I assumed the worst of course, as one naturally would when there is a virus plaguing the world. Turns out, it was just *regular sick* and my results were negative. No one else got sick in my house either. Still, August was a weird time of year to get sick and I was a little panicked for a while.

September brought on my third highlight of the year. My boyfriend and I went away for the weekend and explored nature in the northern part of our state before things cooled down for the season. It was perfect. There is something to be said on adventuring the world, car rides with good music, hiking lake shores and forests, and seeing breathtaking waterfalls and sunsets with the love of your life. I want to spend the rest of my life doing things like that. Hands down one of, if not, 2020’s greatest blessing(s). So grateful for that little (but not so little in my heart) weekend in September.

The very end of September also brought unimaginable loss, as this year has brought for so many. And while I wish to keep this private as it’s not mine to tell, it would be an injustice to not mention this or erase it as part of my 2020. I want everyone who has lost someone this year to know that I recognize you and hurt alongside you. And that my heart is with you all.

October brought my 22nd birthday, which oddly enough was a bit of a bummer. I was mourning the end of my era of being 21 because to be quite honest, corona never let me have my year of being 21. I had a solid four months before all the bars and clubs closed in March. And I feel like I was robbed haha. I know that’s selfish and a lot of people lost so much else during this time, and this is not to negate any of the terrible losses people have suffered this year. It might sound a tad dramatic at my age, but I am not getting any younger. My youth is slipping away! Those of us 21 and younger are losing out on a lot of huge milestones when we should be in our prime and able to celebrate all these things to the fullest extent like the generations before us. It’s just an unfortunate situation, but obviously in the best interest of public health and safety.

Thankfully, I did get to celebrate my 22nd birthday in a special and memorable way with two of my girlfriends. We had a wild, much needed, girls night out and I am beyond grateful.

The final biggest event of the year is the opportunity for advancement that I was able to take at my job. I like to keep these things pretty private online, but I was promoted into a role I thoroughly have been enjoying and challenging myself in, after feeling stagnant for so long. Sometimes the best opportunities are the ones we didn’t plan or account for. It’s been a positive change presenting more room for growth and a learning experience that I am still very excited about.

All in all, there was a lot of little things to have been grateful for in 2020. And it’s the little things (in addition to beach vacations and girls nights) that make this life worth living. Like all the sushi my sister and I DoorDashed during quarantine. The Pokemon Go walks my boyfriend and I went on in parks by us. New music from Taylor Swift. Old music from Nightly and Olivia O’brien. ANIMAL CROSSING. Doing a photo-shoot. Celebrating 5 years (half a decade!) with the man who makes my heart happy. Coloring my hair three separate times and leaving 2020 with bright purple and pink hair that younger me only ever wished I could be cool enough to pull off. And on top of it all I posted some YouTube videos and got even more into blogging this year than I think I have ever been really.

To say I have no uncertainty left in my heart or mind for the future would be a bold-faced lie. I am young. I guess I’d be more concerned if I wasn’t feeling a level of uncertainty. Still I have received so much advice that has brought me peace. A friend of mine told me to not feel guilty for taking a pause on any of my plans as the world is also taking a pause with me. No one is being left behind. Another piece of advice I received was a reminder that there is literally no reason to rush anything. The only reason we feel that way sometimes is we create that pressure for ourselves in our lives. It doesn’t come from anything else. I am holding these in my heart and in the back of my mind as I walk into this next year, and reminding myself of them whenever I feel myself slipping into the toxic mindset that plagued me this year.

I refuse to walk into 2021 clinging to anything else but Jesus and optimism in the face of uncertainty.

Jessica

2 thoughts on “Graduating during a pandemic and a 2020 reflection.

  1. Beautifully written, Jessica! Thank you for sharing your memories throughout this year. You are absolutely right; we need not feel behind, because nobody is behind right now. We are all pausing together, and that’s ok. I can’t wait to see all of the amazing things that you are going to continue doing! Love you!

    Like

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