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This time of year marks the end of the school year for most students. And for those graduating from college, it marks their official step into the adult world and post-graduate life.
In any normal year, graduates are feeling the full spectrum of feelings — excitement, pride, nervousness, and even fear for what the future holds. But this past year one of those emotions eclipsed all the others — an overwhelming sense of anxiety amid a challenging job market after a complicated year of virtual learning.
Carol Lwali, the Associate Director of External Relations for Seattle University’s career center elaborates:
“This time last year, the picture was quite bleak. It couldn’t have been more different than the way that year had began. I’d say at the beginning of 2020, it was going to be some of the best job markets and three months, four months in, it turned out to be quite dismal.”
A number of students lost internships their junior year — a pivotal time for those looking to secure a job after graduation. Last month, Pew Research published a study that found 69% of adults between the ages of 20-29 who had graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree or higher the previous spring were employed. That number was down from 78% in 2019.
Andrea Otáñez is an Associate Teaching Professor at the University of Washington in its Department of Communication and journalism program. Otáñez pointed out that some journalism students have gone through the whole program virtually, never getting any face to face time with their peers or instructors. Being in person is normally a very important aspect to reporting that Otáñez explains is missed when you’re doing a phone or Zoom interview.
“Not being able to read people in the same way, not being able to see their environment, not being able to see interactions that they have with other people…all of those sensory things are changed.”
Despite the obvious downsides to virtual learning and a year that threw the best laid plans to the wayside, many graduates are actually quite hopeful. And according to Lwali they have a reason to be.
“Hiring has definitely gone up; it’s even higher than pre-pandemic time,” Lwali said. “We’re seeing midsize employers struggling to compete with big employers.”
As a journalism instructor, Otáñez shared that students are already particularly aware of entering an industry that has been described as “dying” for the past decade.
“In the field of journalism, I think students are definitely going in with their expectations in check,” Otáñez said.
That’s not to say journalism students haven’t found success in the field — the person writing this right now (hi, it’s me, Grace!) graduated from the UW and was hired during the pandemic. But adjusting expectations and broadening one’s perspective when job hunting continues to be key.
“If you think about the way the job market is going, [many] job titles haven’t even been created yet,” Lwali said. “Almost every company had to adapt to being digital in some form or the other, even your mom and pop restaurant needed to figure out how to change your menu so we can see them online, or, you know, those kinds of things.”
Similarly, Otáñez said she had been reflecting on the stuff that students are getting out of college besides just their degrees.
“We talk a lot about values,” Otáñez said. “What are the values you are developing and getting out of this academic experience not just in journalism, but being at the UW, and holding on to them going into wherever you go next.”
In a survey sent out to graduating college students by The Evergrey, almost all said they were most disappointed about not seeing their friends and getting a graduation ceremony. While they expressed hope and optimism for the job market, they noted that they won’t be able to have that last senior hurrah.
“COVID has kind of killed all the acquaintance-type friends I had, like the friends you only see in certain classes or the ones you see at parties once in a while,” Andy Yamashita, a graduating journalism student at the UW said. “I’d also say not getting an in-person graduation is tough, too. I’m an only child and this was really my parents’ only chance to watch their kid graduate college, so that sucks.”
How much the pandemic will impact this year’s graduating class is still in question as the economy recovers. But what we do know is that we’ve had two years of college graduates miss the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments in front of friends and family, and that for many is the more bitter pill to swallow. At the same time, Lwali frames it differently, it’s proof that they can and will see success as they embark in their post-graduate lives.
“We have to tell them, yes, you are ready, you have got everything it takes,” Lwali said. “Graduating is such a huge accomplishment, getting through this time is such a huge accomplishment, and so is your resilience and persistence all this time. You’re already doing it, you’re already surviving.”
Sponsored by Civic Commons at The Seattle Foundation