This year’s graduation season is an unusual one, to say the least. Graduation is one of the first major milestones for many students; it marks the successful end of years of study and preparation, and the transition to a more focused life of higher education or beginning a career.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown restrictions and uncertainty into the lives of current graduates and their families, and we understand those who might think they’ve gotten a raw deal. For them, the older generation’s message, “Welcome to the real world,” carries extra weight.
The pandemic shuttered schools after Spring break, forcing schools and students to finish the semester through remote classes and other special adjustments. Although some restrictions are being eased, many remain in place, putting a damper on many traditional graduation traditions and plans. Commencement exercises either aren’t being held or restrict the number of family members and friends can attend.
But even a major milestone shouldn’t be worth the risk of catching a potentially fatal disease.
Worse, those who will be entering the job market will find many doors closed, and the highest unemployment rates the country has seen in decades.
Certainly, many grads are in no mood to receive words of consolation, but we feel compelled to offer them anyway: It gets better.
Yes, graduation is a big deal. It’s a major accomplishment, and its the last formal gathering that will include many people students have known since elementary school. After this, the graduates are spread to the winds; some leave town and every year some of them will leave one’s circle of friends and contacts.
But it won’t be the last major even in life. In fact, it will be supplanted — perhaps quickly — by other life events: graduation from a higher institution; starting a career: marriage, the birth of one’s children. Some grads might attend sporting events, homecomings and other activities with their alma maters, but they could begin to pale in importance.
Entering the job market this year brings challenges that others have never faced — but it also brings unique challenges. Jobs dried up as the pandemic forced many businesses to close. Some of those businesses might never reopen, but most will, creating a wealth of openings and opportunities. Grads will have to compete with older and perhaps more experienced workers for those openings, but we can expect many employers will take the opportunity to bring youth into their staffs.
It’s unknown how long it will take to bring our economy back to pre-pandemic levels, when we had virtually full employment and wages were rising. But there’s no reason we can’t get there; in fact, this pandemic might have opened new opportunities for medical research, specialized safety equipment — even stylish fashion for protective wear.
So we offer a plea for patience and understanding, as well as confidence that we’ll make it through this health crisis and life will get better.
Chances are, schools will hold traditional commencement ceremonies when it’s safe to do so, or expand summer or winter graduations to include the current class.
Either way, 2020 graduates will have a special story that others never will: how they began their careers amid one of our history’s most unusual social events.