By Kalli Colacino
When Kim Tang graduated from the College with a degree in communication studies, she was hoping to start her career and relocate to New York. She never expected to have a virtual graduation, or to spend the first six months as a college graduate in her living room.
After an uncertain end to their College experience, Spring 2020 graduates were faced with even more uncertainty. What was entering the working world during a pandemic going to look like?
“It was really tough coming to terms with graduation and without having definite closure on arguably the four most influential years of my life thus far,” Tang said. “I wanted to be able to see my friends again, say goodbye, cap off the year with the events and celebrations that mark the end of your time at TCNJ — and instead, I was sitting in my living room.”
During the pandemic, unemployment rates increased significantly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent in October 2020 from 3.7 percent in October 2019 — a 4.5 percent increase in one year.
“I remember one of the first things I was thinking about once it settled that Covid was here to stay, and we would be in lockdown for a while, was that it was going to be even more challenging to secure a job post-grad than before,” Tang said. “During the pandemic, with places holding hiring freezes and other places letting people go, it was so difficult to find anywhere that was even hiring.”
Not only were recent graduates competing with fellow 2020 graduates, but they were also competing with people who were let go during the pandemic and also actively job-hunting.
“It was a little nerve-wracking to not only graduate college but to be graduating in this current state of affairs,” said Grace Sandel, a 2020 graduate with a degree in biology. “I remember being, and still am to a certain degree, apprehensive of what may lie ahead.”
After graduating, Sandel realized that the job market was a little shaky. About four months post-grad, she was hired by a small eye care practice. But after a short period of time, she was no longer able to remain on staff as a result of decreased working hours and pay cuts. About a month after leaving her first post-grad job, she was hired by her local emergency department as a clinical information manager.
“It took much longer [than expected] to find a stable position,” Sandel said. “I wish I could go back in time and give myself a heads-up that I probably won’t graduate with a job right away, and that’s okay!”
For Patty Kou, a graduate with a degree in finance and political science, finding a job was not an issue — she was fortunate that she had a job lined up after graduation since the end of her junior year. But she knows just how much Covid-19 has affected the job market, and knows of a lot of people who are having difficulty finding jobs.
“I was fortunate enough where I did not have to deal with the stress of finding a job in the middle of a pandemic, but I do know people that were able to find jobs relatively quickly and some that are still looking,” Kou said.
After being unemployed for two months, Tang was hired at FCB Health, a company where she previously held an internship.
“Full-time offers were not guaranteed, and they [FCB Health] would reach out and let us know if spots were open to apply, so I was applying for jobs in between as well, with little to no luck,” Tang said.
While the abrupt ending to the Spring 2020 semester was less than ideal, graduates are adapting and overcoming the unique challenges presented to them.
“Leaving college in the midst of a pandemic felt unfinished, for lack of a better word,” Kou said. “I think people graduating were obviously upset and in denial, but Covid-19 didn’t give us the opportunity to do a lot of our ‘lasts.’”
Vineeth Amba, a graduate with a degree in biology, believes not being able to say goodbye to his friends was the hardest part about graduating during a pandemic. Amba, who is currently a medical student at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, is continuing to juggle online and hybrid schooling.
“However, leaving my friends was by far the most challenging part,” Amba said. “As I knew that I would be relatively busy in the adjustment period into medical school, I wanted to be sure to give those who were important to me a proper goodbye, and I was not able to do so.”
Six months after graduation, the class of 2020 has not recieved much closure. Some graduates have still not been able to host a graduation party, say goodbye to friends and professors or even do a celebratory jump into the science complex fountain.
“If I could go back to tell myself one thing, it’d be to just spend as much time with your friends as possible, even if all you’re doing is just working on assignments in a room together,” said Tang. “I think the pandemic has shown me how important making the most of your time is — to really just live in the moment.”
Although moving to online classes may have been the safest option for the community, graduates were unable to complete their college experience, and can’t help but think of what could have been.
Graduating college is a huge milestone in a student’s life. But a piece of it was taken away for Spring 2020 graduates, who received their diplomas via Zoom and weren’t able to celebrate with friends and family.
“Senior year is already very bittersweet, and having to come to terms that my time at TCNJ was ending earlier than I anticipated was hard,” said Tang. “It felt like I couldn’t properly say goodbye to the school or tie up the loose ends left behind.”
Throughout the unusual times, the class of 2020 has shown their resilience time and time again by overcoming challenges no one has faced before. It has been six months since the class of 2020 has graduated, and although there were — and still are — many hardships, the past months have been full of accomplishments too.
Kou said biggest accomplishment in the midst of this pandemic was finding time to care of herself. She notes how she discovered the meaning of self love, and used the newfound free time as an opportunity to grow as an individual.
“If I could pick out the one thing that I’m really proud of, it’s that I’m much kinder to myself these days,” Tang said.
After a few months in the working world, Sandel has realized that although good grades are important, the difference between a 98 percent and a 90 percent grade doesn’t mean much in the working world. Very few employers asked, or cared, what her undergraduate GPA was.
“Life is not about being perfect, having the perfect GPA, getting the perfect salary, or even having the perfect path to your dream career,” Sandel said. “Life is about learning and growing from your experiences; not to achieve perfection, but so that everyday, you can wake up with pride in your accomplishments and a renewed sense of purpose.”
The class of 2020 had a unique welcome to the working world, but hard times have not slowed them down.
“No one had been in this situation before. My parents kept asking me if I was employed, [or] if I had a job, and while I know they just wanted the best for me, I felt like such a disappointment for not finding a job sooner — which is ridiculous! We’re in a pandemic!”