I know that for me, picking up my cap and gown was a moment heavy with an overlying anxiety. The plastic bag with my blue ceremonial clothes sits on my shelf, and I try not to think about it. It’s not because I’m overly sentimental or despise thinking about leaving Hope College. It’s not the place I’m walking away from that fills me with a muted dread. It’s the blank space I’m heading into.
Graduation is always a scary dream, no matter how much you’re wanting to leave a place behind. The unknown is something very few people enter with lightness in their steps. This fear is maximized now, with the way the unpredictability of the world has just been swirled by a big spoon into a churning mess of currents and riptides. Before we would have been entering an unknown that had, for the most part, some order or semblance of laws we could count on. But now there is little we can expect. Those of us who would have gotten jobs suddenly aren’t being offered any, and even those who have received job offers can’t be sure what their position will look like in the middle of a pandemic. Graduation is always scary, but it’s especially scary in the middle of COVID-19.
If you’re like me and don’t have a new, exciting job lined up for yourself at the end of May, don’t worry. We are multitudes this year. Take comfort in the millions of people around the world who are in the same position. Abigail Hess, in a CNBC article, states that 2020 graduates were entering “the most hostile labor market since the Great Depression.” We are about to join all those graduates, giving us a large community of workers who can understand and empathize with each other. My first piece of advice would be to connect with others. Talk to friends and other peers, understand their stories and be there to help. There’s a chance they may repay the favor. Learn how others have surmounted this obstacle and take notes on their mistakes as well as their accomplishments.
Another piece of advice would be don’t panic. It’s not a productive use of your time. Remain calm and take every setback or struggle as what it is: a fact of life you cannot change. Everything you go through now will make you a better job candidate in the future. Employers are already learning to appreciate the skills this pandemic has given us; skills to adapt to unexpected conditions, to communicate in a myriad of different ways and to handle crippling stress in an efficient and healthy manner. Every fight you didn’t see coming is another chance to excel.
A third piece of advice is to use the college resources still at your disposal. We still have two months of classes left. This is invaluable time to talk to professors and learn from their experiences. This is also a great time to catch up with peers and learn their strategies for job hunting or career searching. And, of course, the Boerigter Center for Calling and Career is a place you should definitely check out. A helpful team is waiting to help you with any questions or aspects of post-graduate life you have questions about, whether that’s resumes, networking, interview skills or finding out what exactly your calling is. They help any student, at any point in their college career, put together a plan for after graduation, starting with skill assessments and major declarations all the way through job searching and graduate school planning.
From late January through the end of February, the Boerigter Center hosted a thirty-day challenge to motivate students to prepare for post-graduation. Throughout five weeks they hosted events on topics such as major discernment, personal branding, personal financing and interviewing. At the end was a virtual Career Fair in which these students could show off the skills and work they had completed through the month. This challenge was so students could hit the ground running, becoming fully invested in their futures at the beginning of the spring semester to maximize their chances of procuring a job. Many of these discussions and lectures were recorded and uploaded to their webpage if you would still like to take part in the challenge.
On March 2, the center will collaborate with the Family Engagement team to bring to students a panel discussion on vocational journeys. The panel will include Dr. Ryan White, Associate Dean for Academic Advising and Applied Learning; Yoli Vega, Senior Academic and Career Advisor; and Dale Austin, Associate Dean. This will be a virtual event that must be registered for in advance. Also, beginning March 10, the center will host a series of career panels featuring professionals within a specific field. The first is finance and accounting, and others include marketing, banking, financial advisory, digital marketing and human resources. These will run until April 7. The Boerigter Center is also open for one-on-one appointments on topics of your choice, and they eagerly recommend you sign up for a time at your earliest convenience.
Another great thing to do is connect with alumni. The graduates of Hope are a helpful bunch and would be more than willing to supply you with the knowledge that has allowed them to succeed both in Hope and out. At connection.hope.edu, students can use their LinkedIn account or their email to survey the alumni directory. Whether you’re looking for a specific person or not, this is a phenomenal way to see just how many resources are laid at your feet.
This is a stressful time, but it will soon pass, and we will all get to a point in our careers where we can look back and appreciate the struggles we were involved in and the precious lessons we learned from them. With two months left, it’s easy to fall into a pit of panic. But I encourage you to take a deep breath and become aware of the significant position you are in. Anything can happen, and this should be viewed less as a curse and more as an opportunity. We only graduate once; let’s make the most out of it.