A look at the Class of 2021
It’s that time of year again, when the hallowed halls of academia open and release hordes of black-robed graduates like bats out of hell. Congrats are in order for all concerned. It’s been a remarkable year, and to those who made it to the finish line—students, educators, guardians and society-at-large—you did it!
If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that nothing is as it was except our resilience, which has remained steadfast in the face of extraordinary challenges. Like remembering to mute ourselves on Zoom before complaining about it. That said, muted or otherwise, such sentiments are echoed by many this year.
“Emotionally, students must feel like they missed out on many ‘lasts,’” says Grant Aldrich, the CEO of Online Degree, an educational platform with tuition-free classes. “The last walk through campus, the final celebration with friends. Though some graduations are in-person, a vast majority are still virtual.”
Even if the ceremonies aren’t virtual, they’re not recognizable as the ceremonies of yore, either. This year, for example, Sonoma State University will host a “Drive-Thru” ceremony.
“Yes, we are excited to celebrate our 2021 graduates with hybrid drive-thru and virtual commencement celebrations,” states the university’s website. “As a graduate, you will have the opportunity to attend in person, in a vehicle, accompanied by your family and friends. You will be able to exit your car, walk across the stage, receive your diploma cover, and take a photo on stage wearing your regalia.”
For those who can’t make the caravan, there will be a livestream at Sonoma.edu. Those who can, however, are reminded that “party busses” are not allowed.
Not everyone is in a celebratory mood, however. Genesis Gutierrez, a member of the Class of 2021 who is graduating from University of California, Los Angeles, is decidedly more reflective.
“I feel like the number one thing I’m experiencing right now, more than ever, is sadness because of how fast I was pushed into reality without getting a chance to even think about it,” says Gutierrez, who is also the founder of the wellness blog and e-commerce company Seven Souls. “When Covid happened, I had to figure out where I wanted to work, moving out of my college apartment not knowing if I was coming back, and didn’t look back. I feel like my life started, and I had to learn to grow up without a warning, and so graduating feels numb. It doesn’t even feel like this whole school year happened.”
Inasmuch as many students can justifiably rue the past year, it’s their futures that garner the most concern.
“Without a doubt, new graduates are feeling uncertainty about the future. Finding a full-time job in the field they studied in is difficult, and many are seeking alternative avenues,” Aldrich says. “According to a study by Monster and Wakefield, 77% of graduates plan to take on freelance or gig work, and 73% took a job out of desperation.”
Besides their career prospects, there is also the question of our new graduates’ general well-being, particularly their mental health as they enter a world full of unknowns.
“New graduates may be experiencing intense anxiety as they navigate going out into a world that feels unsafe,” says Julia Gold, a psychotherapist and founder of Hopeful Bluebird Consulting, LLC. “New graduates have to deal with job searching in an unstable economy while keeping their families safe. New graduates have to deal with layers of trauma from a global pandemic, an insecure job economy and navigate changing social rules.”
It’s not all doom and gloom though, reminds Aldrich, who points to companies’ willingness to hire graduates with transferable skills—even if they didn’t study in the exact field of the job—as a silver lining.
“For example, let’s say a student studied international relations, but is looking for jobs in social media marketing. Even without a marketing degree, they may be able to find a job if they have samples or a portfolio,” Aldrich says.
Joe Wilson, senior career advisor at MintResume, a resume and career website, agrees.
“On the plus side, these graduates have learnt to be adaptable,” he says. “They have learnt to thrive in a world that is constantly changing, and these are the people who can take this attitude and skill forward. They have experienced harder times, adapted to different ways of living and learning, and they will be more equipped to adapt to change as it continues.”
Wilson’s observation underscores the experience of Madeleine Knight, a graduating senior at Rohnert Park’s Credo High School.
“I think that we, as a whole, have gained knowledge on what needs to be fixed in the world, and we have gained different insights on how to better our world,” says Knight, a talented and accomplished artist. “I think that we were just one of the unlucky generations that needed to go through this. In this past month it has been getting a lot better as we get closer to the graduation ceremony date, but because we are graduating now—and through all of this happening—there is a bit of an unsatisfactory feeling to it. There are some people that I know I will probably never see again, and that’s what scares me the most.”