How has COVID-19 affected our graduates?
Writing and survey by Hannah Rothmann. Illustration by Hazel Laing.
Many of us at The Rattlecap will be graduating next year or in the years after that, but we have been thinking about our friends and fellow students who are now leaving the university bubble for the big wide world. We have asked some of 2020’s graduates about how they are feeling and how the unique experience of graduating in a global pandemic has affected them.
Plans post-graduation before COVID-19?
Most of these responses involved working some sort of job – a bar job, a summer camp in America – and then going travelling. Some had already set plans in motion; for example, they had applied to do a master’s or to go to law school. These plans for travelling and taking time out were seriously impacted by the outbreak.
How have plans changed?
For some, their plans have remained the same or fast-forwarded. Master’s are still going ahead, and people’s gap years have been discarded in favour of beginning law school or further study as soon as possible. Unfortunately, for those looking for jobs, there are not many around. Some had grad schemes cancelled and many others are struggling to find jobs in pubs, bars and shops because of the economic impact of COVID-19 and the recession we are in. Several have moved back home to save money- with mixed feelings. One person says it is ‘a very relaxing version of lockdown, although a little frustrating at times’ and another feels ‘very lucky’ for the time they are able to spend with their family. This period has given families a unique time to strengthen, or break, their relationships. Many still seem hopeful to travel, but there is pessimism about the likelihoods of finding jobs or any sort of employment.
We asked graduates to rate how they feel for their future on a scale of 1-10 (1 being the worst) and answers ranged from 5-8. Still hopeful then!
Unique challenges facing this graduate cohort?
Some answers included;
‘Anxiety about moving away from home is heightened because of Coronavirus and it not being so easy for my family to visit or for me to visit home, but overall I feel very privileged to be able to keep my pre-corona plans.’
‘Pressure to work yourself to death’
‘Not being able to drive and access jobs that I would have really liked to do’
Many also cited the job market right now being in free fall, especially the fact that many people are being made redundant. Hopefully, this pause will mean that the way people work is reassessed and fears, such as pressure to work yourself to death, will be addressed and solutions found. Capitalism in its current state is destructive and ultimately retroactive in the long term.
Recent graduates were asked whether they feel more politicised after these months in lockdown, especially because many of them would have had more time to read, think and debate than ever before.
‘I have always been politically engaged so I wouldn’t necessarily say I am more politicised, but I have had more time to keep on top of current events and put more energy into my activism. For example, I have done a lot of campaigning on refugee and asylum seeker rights, and some issues in this area were certainly highlighted during the pandemic. I started campaigning with Europe Must Act about the conditions on the Aegean Island refugee camps and was involved in (socially distanced) protests about hotel detention of asylum seekers at home in Glasgow.’
Social media has also played a role in mobilising people in this period; one graduate referenced that they had become more politicised because of time on their hands and ‘being very active on Twitter’. This time has definitely meant that people have had more time to read about issues and become more self-aware. Hopefully this will translate into verifiable change.
For some graduates, emphasis on political causes has also changed due to the inequalities highlighted by the pandemic and the threat to the NHS.
‘People I know who were not necessarily very politically engaged have started educating themselves on issues of oppression (both with regards to the BLM movement and inequalities revealed by the pandemic). This change in itself is incredibly important to me, seeing more people engaging with issues that really matter.’
However, responses were split on what they felt was the biggest issue we are currently facing. Climate change, for many, is the most important, as for them this will worsen all other inequalities. Another graduate mentioned the myriad of threats towards liberal democracy, and one stressed the issue of polarisation which ‘has been heightened by the pandemic, and I fear it will be worsened by Brexit’.
‘Now I’ve kind of realised the benefits of having some sustainability and stability in life – particularly if you want to sustain changes in your own life (e.g. aim for non/minimum waste) and help encourage it in others.’
‘Yes, having had an insight into the dark and perverse world of corporate law, I’ve realised how important it is to have time to develop and enjoy yourself.’
This period has given some graduates time to think about what they really want to do with their life, rather than passively falling into the working world. Hopefully it will mean that what is important to people becomes their main priority rather than it being secondary.
This period has shown that we are sociable creatures and dependent on others (to an extent) to ensure our own happiness. Even in isolation we have found ways to communicate with each other through video calls, online quizzes and even sending letters.
‘Human connection is incredibly important.’
The threat of COVID-19 has also meant people have prioritised their relationships with certain people in their lives.
‘One lovely thing about lockdown has been being able to spend much more time with my family, particularly my granddad. It’s really easy to get distracted by all the things going on in the world and your own life and reconnecting with my grandad has been a really wonderful part of being home.’
This period has also seen people band together. Community ties have been strengthened as we came to realise that in times of crisis our neighbours and relationships with other people around us are extremely important.
However, technology can only go so far in replacing real interactions with people.
‘When I saw my friends again for the first time it was a really surreal feeling. I’d spoken to them a lot but physically being there with them gave a heightened feeling of connection within the conversation and being there with my mates.’
‘I miss group gatherings, potlucks, parties and really, really basic things like bumping into people at the gym, in the shops and going for coffee. That being said, these are all things that will come back and your friends aren’t going anywhere, and there’s lots of ways to stay in contact (remember landlines, anyone? Post?).’
‘[There is] definitely a lack of connection physically compared to before lockdown.
[I] went to see my gran yesterday and she’s still shielding so I have to be really cautious with her. It makes me really sad when I have to say bye because you can see in her eyes that she just wants a big hug.’
I do feel it is important to reflect on what we have learnt from this period of loss, disruption and social unrest. Reflect on how you feel, why you feel that way and what you can do to act upon or change those feelings. Change does need to happen for several aspects of our lives, and that change needs to start with us.