Graduating during Covid-19 


Graduation season is usually a time when graduates spam their Instagram feeds with commencement ceremony photos together with friends, classmates and loved ones. And soon after, everyone jets off overseas for their long-anticipated grad trips. 

The Class of 2020, however, did not get to experience any of that due to the ongoing pandemic. As a graduate myself, I initially felt extremely disappointed that this milestone in my life would resort to a watered down virtual version. But after graduating during Covid-19, I realised that there is a silver lining to every dark cloud.

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My expectations of graduating from university 


covid-19 graduation
Image credit:
Outside-In NUS

It honestly doesn’t feel too long ago when I was still a JC student mugging with my friends for our A Levels at Starbucks. But fast forward to 2020, and I’d graduated from university in the mere form of an email, which marked a bittersweet ending to not just four years of uni life, but the final chapter of what was my entire academic journey. 

Stepping into the real world as a fully-functioning adult felt much less significant too, because unlike previous years, the long-awaited commencement ceremony had been postponed to the following year instead. As it turns out, that didn’t quite work out either as 2021’s graduation ceremonies were affected by the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) as well.

covid-19 graduation - holidayWhat could have been
Image credit: TheSmartLocal

In the same vein, I was looking forward to my once-in-a-life-time grad trip to explore somewhere beyond my usual budget destinations. My friends and I were eyeing the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing to Moscow because it meant the last bit of freedom before we started to carve out our own careers. 

Back in March 2020, we even thought that Russia would still be pretty safe to visit considering its early number of Covid-19 cases, but this soon became an impossible dream when the Circuit Breaker (CB) was announced. Thankfully, we hadn’t got to booking our flights and accommodation yet. 


The reality of graduating during Covid-19 


As graduation crept up in July last year, my classmates and I were undoubtedly psyched for the big event. After all, our entire academic lives had prepared us for this very moment. But all that anticipation dissipated as quickly as the number of coronavirus cases increased over the CB period. 

semesters in school graduation
My semesters usually concluded with me thanking my favourite professors, group mates and taking commemorative photos with them.
Image credit: TheSmartLocal

Looking back at pictures of how my previous semesters concluded, they were always filled with a sense of collective joy and celebration with both professors and coursemates. After hustling hard together for 13 weeks, the final lecture provided the time and space for meaningful closure to each module.

Instead, our final semester was moved almost entirely online in February and we attended the last physical lectures of our lives without even realising it. I was still thinking hard about how I could thank my thesis supervisor properly in-person as he guided me tirelessly throughout the year, but these were inevitably reduced to email exchanges. 

While I was fortunate enough to only have had a thesis paper to submit for my final semester, some of my school mates fared with the horror of home based learning and online exams. Worse, some were even hit with incessant internet connectivity issues during their online final exams. 

I can only imagine how I’d have handled a situation like that – probably on the verge of tears trying to salvage my grades from unpredictable distractions.

family photo
Throwback to my elder sister’s graduation photo. I would’ve had one too if not for Covid-19.

Image credit: TheSmartLocal

When my sister graduated, we arranged to take professional photos together with her in a graduation gown. Meanwhile, plans for mine were shelved indefinitely. I would probably have to wait till my younger sister graduates in two years to take mine at the same time given the current circumstances. 

It may not be timely to my actual graduation by then, but I sure hope the feeling will still be special all the same.


Finding the silver lining of it all


I don’t want to discount how bad graduating during a pandemic is for many of us – trust me, I lost sleep over worrying about it. But as cliche as it sounds, there’s some good to be found in every predicament.

letters -covid-19 graduation
My friends and I mailed well wishes and congrats to each other through handwritten letters
Image credit: TheSmartLocal

When the official date of graduation arrived, my friends and I still decided to celebrate the occasion in the form of sending food deliveries and cards to each other. These gifts were all the more heartwarming in a time such as this, since it took extra effort and gave our experience a personal touch. 

covid-19 graduation - artworks
A slower pace of life also gave me time for previously-neglected hobbies like drawing
Image credit: TheSmartLocal

I also got to reconnect with old hobbies such as singing, playing the guitar, and drawing, which I probably would not have had time to do if I was busy travelling. Time after graduation in a world that had been put on pause also gave me the space to recalibrate and do a check on my own mental well-being. 

Instead of being in a rush to secure a job immediately, being stuck in an abysmal economy gave me time to pause, reflect, and think about what I really wanted to do. Some of my peers would have taken a gap year to explore themselves and figure out their next steps, and while I had no intention to do so, this pandemic “forced” us all into some self-realisation for the better.

My original plan? Secure a full-time job ASAP after graduation for the sole purpose of being financially independent.

I applied for multiple positions during the semester before the chaos of Covid-19, but did not manage to secure a role that I wanted. Many of my fellow well-qualified friends who did internships at “Big Four” companies even had their original job offers rescinded due to a hiring freeze. Simply put, with or without Covid-19, the job market was not looking promising to begin with.

Some of us therefore chose to pursue a Masters degree first and only find a full-time job when the economy recovered. I took it as a sign from the universe that this year would be my personal gap year to focus on developing my skills, and I eventually settled for SG traineeship opportunities instead. 

Looking back as I settle into my full-time role in present time, doing that traineeship programme was the best thing that happened to me during a time like this. It gave me the opportunity to explore the media industry, write viral articles, and experience what it was like to be in a younger company. If I got the choice in a parallel, Covid-less world, I’d do it all over again.

Besides, had I begun work immediately upon graduation, I might have regretted not savouring my last bit of youth and freedom before stepping into the working world too.


Moving beyond graduation and my next steps 


Navigating Covid-19 has been tricky because we’re working from home, and the social element of work is greatly reduced. To adapt, I found changing out of my pyjamas during work hours and showering after knocking off helpful to ease myself in and out of the work zone. And to be honest, I’m grateful for the fact that I have a job.

Graduating at this time may suck big time; we missed out on a proper graduation ceremony, grad trips overseas and entering a flourishing economy where job opportunities are rife. The pandemic has set the Class of 2020 apart from other years of graduates, and we face unprecedented challenges to overcome that will define us in years to come. 

But remembering the words of Oprah Winfrey in her online commencement ceremony speech that streamed globally on 15th May 2020, “Let’s be the class that commenced a new way forward”

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Cover image adapted from: SIT, Cheryl Phua