The Class of 2020, Now What?
Maddie Wallace was on spring break in the Bahamas when she got the news; she would not be going back to school. The coronavirus was declared a pandemic and the College of Charleston planned to shut down campus. She finished her classes online in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
"I was at home in my childhood bedroom," she laughs.
"My mom would peek in my room and be like, 'are you done yet?' I'm like, 'Mom I'm in class.' "
There's nothing like moving home to cramp a college student's life.
But there were also no goodbyes to classmates and friends. Graduation has been postponed until October. Commencement literally means beginning. But Maddie never felt a sense of closure.
"I mean your last day of college, your last day of class you're like 'woah this is my last day in the classroom I'll ever be in.' So, I never really go that. I just pressed submit on my last exam and I guess I'm done now."
Maddie is not alone. Nationwide the class of 2020 faces uncertainty finding that first job during the coronavirus pandemic. The closing of a nation has had roughly one in four Americans filing for unemployment.
What's more, past research shows college students who graduate during a recession earn 10% less that first year than otherwise expected, and it could take them a decade to catch up.
"A lot of my friends that had jobs are getting those jobs taken away," says Maddie.
"Then a lot of the jobs online are sort of disappearing or if you apply to the job you'll get to the end and they'll say this job offer no longer exists."
Maddie is trying to stay optimistic. With her mother's help, she moved back to Charleston. He part-time retail job just re-opened. But her dream of working in marketing or public relations, using that college degree she earned, is beginning to feel out of reach.
"You know it is still summer and these students have been through a lot," says Erin Halford. She is the employer relations manager at the College of Charleston's Career Center. Its resources were made available online within days of the campus closing.
Halford encourages graduates to embrace every opportunity, even if it's something they never would have considered before.
"Some recent grads are really maybe waiting to see if something better comes along and we don't know if that will happen," says Halford.
She says she is still seeing opportunities in healthcare, manufacturing and sales. She advises grads to continue networking. Many internships have been cancelled, but there are now micro-internships, short term company projects that can help get a foot in the door.
Halford says recent graduates should also volunteer and reach out to alumni. The College of Charleston offers zoom chat sessions that give former students a chance to hear from those who've gone before them.
Seth Burrell graduated from the college in 2015 and is grateful for the mentors in his life. He's giving back by taking part in zoom chats, answering questions and offering advice.
"You don't want to tie your emotional well-being to a job, especially in this time which is so uncertain," says Burrell.
Maddie gets it. At first, she admits, she was in denial. But now she's trying to embrace the situation.
"You just kind of have to be patient, wait it out, do what you can in this moment."
The fresh faced, suntanned 22 year-old sips a soda at a downtown cafe in Charleston. She watches as a line winds outside the restaurant. It isn't crowded, but people are social distancing because of the pandemic.
For Maddie, nothing has gone as planned this year.
"It will be interesting to see what the world looks like when this is all done," she says.
Like that line, sometimes life is about timing and yes, luck. Perhaps the class f 2020 will look back one day and find patience and perserverence are what defined them, not a pandemic.