Graduating during a pandemic gives me hope

Commencement at UAA is only a few days away for graduating seniors on Dec. 12. My experience during this semester has simultaneously flown by and felt like an eternity because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year has been an interesting college experience at UAA. Photo by Vanatha Thang at Pexels.

It has taken me longer than it should have to finally get my undergraduate degree. I started my educational journey in Chicago at my local community college, getting my associates in general studies because I was so uncertain about what career path to commit to. After getting my AA, I took a few years off school to travel via seasonal jobs, living and working at ski resorts, country clubs and lodges all over the country. The decision to go back to school was easy after a series of terrible recent jobs and managers and it has been a manageable experience so far… until 2020.

I will graduate with a bachelor’s in journalism and a minor in anthropology in just a few days. It is exciting, although I had hoped to walk the stage at commencement and get my hard-earned diploma while looking at a sea of my peers in caps and gowns. A personalized Zoom slide during virtual graduation will have to suffice.

Learning online this semester has been more convenient and difficult at the same time. Thankfully, I have been blessed with professors that have provided class structures online that are easy to navigate and instructors that have also been empathetic to the challenges of online education.

It has been difficult to grasp concepts without an in-class discussion or lectures, but it has been nice being able to access classes online at home. Though I do not miss in-person class that much, I miss interacting with actual people and lament on opportunities missed because of the pandemic.

Zoom was fun at first, like going to class in a chat room, but then it got old fast. I miss seeing my classmates in person and having chats in between classes, complaining about the discomforts of student and work-life and learning in an in-person environment where opinions would spark debate and discussion. I am an introverted and shy person, but I miss just being around people. There have been some missed opportunities for me this semester that would have been life-changing experiences as well.

Last April, I had the opportunity to join a sorority, Sigma Sigma Sigma at UAA and I was psyched! I would have been able to go to social events that were planned to fit my busy schedule, as well as spontaneous ones with other members. I felt like I had found sisterhood, something I had longed for my entire life.

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Right after my initiation in April, classes went online and lockdown mandates were imposed. Greek life has pretty much been on hold for me since then. I had also decided to accept an internship in Iceland soon after this that combined journalism and anthropology and would also have been counted as class credit. This internship could not have been more perfect for me. That was eliminated too.

Though these experiences downright suck, I am thankful for my time at UAA and where I am in life. In Chicago, I lived, worked and went to school in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods for that part of the city. I remember carrying mace and a small knife in case I got assaulted or followed on the way to work, school or home, which happened more than a few times.

During my sophomore year in college, I remember being done with a long study session in my school’s basement library and trying to exit the school, but the doors were locked. A security guard informed me that the school was on lockdown because SWAT was outside taking care of a situation where someone with a gun was threatening to open fire from a nearby top-floor apartment onto the street, as well as holding a hostage. I had to hunker down for four more hours.

The stress of living in this kind of environment was ever-present and permeated all aspects of my life, from physical and mental health, sleep and grades. I wanted to take a break for a summer, so I took a seasonal job in Alaska in 2013 and taking that chance changed my life in wonderful ways I never foresaw.

Though 2020 has been a dumpster fire of disappointments and uncertainty, I feel optimistic that the next year will be rife with positive possibilities. I will finally have my B.A., my sorority has alumni chapters all over the country, I can still take that internship in the future and one day the pandemic will be over.

What has been most important to me has been staying safe while pursuing my aspirations, taking care of those who are most important to me and knowing that there is not an abyss over the horizon, but greener pastures with solid grounds of certainty.

It is important to not lose sight of your goals, to not remain in depression and take care of those you love, as well as yourself. Though graduation may be another Zoom conference, knowing how hard it was to get here and all the experiences I’ve had along the way will be an important milestone in my life and a reminder to never stop relentlessly persisting.