Campus Coronavirus News

Cut short: Graduating seniors adjust to upended final days

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the higher education system has taken an emotional toll on some spring 2020 seniors. | File photo

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the higher education system has taken an emotional toll on some spring 2020 seniors. | File photo

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the lives of over 25 million college students across thousands of U.S. universities, and graduating seniors are still adjusting to the emotional impact of their traditional college experience being cut short.

Students part of UH’s 2020 class, who saw their final semester switch to online-only learning, will walk across the graduation stage months after the date they were expecting and are worried about entering the workforce during this unprecedented time.

While some students are optimistic about what the future holds after the pandemic, others are still working to overcome these upending changes to their final days of higher education. 

Unexpected goodbyes

For the last two years, digital media senior Tress-Marie Landa has been working on her thesis presentation. After changing majors twice, transferring schools and taking a couple of semesters off to work, she is excited to be near the finish line of her college journey.

“Graduation was going to be that final step that I’ve been patiently and diligently working towards,” Landa said.

While working on her thesis, Landa had dreamed about giving her final presentation and supporting her classmates through theirs.

“It was supposed to be a big event and a time to see all my classmates’ hard work,” Landa said. “I wanted to take pictures with my professors and classmates — make more final memories.”

Because of the switch to remote learning, Landa and her classmates’ thesis presentations were presented virtually. Though she said it was nice to present from her living room, she’s determined to give her classmates a proper goodbye once the pandemic reaches its end.

Finding a job or keeping one

The pandemic has forced millions of layoffs across the world, and millions have already filed for unemployment. Before the coronavirus pandemic began to affect University operations, Landa had a work-study job as a lab assistant at UH Sugar Land — which she later lost due to campus closures.

“Student workers have definitely struggled losing that income unexpectedly,” Landa said.

Many graduating seniors, such as public relations senior Fatimah Sayeed, had prepared to spend April attending career fairs, interviews and other events to get a foot in the door of the job market. 

Since various career events have been canceled or moved to virtual formats because of the pandemic, Sayeed’s fears continue to grow about joining the workforce after graduation. 

“Now me, and others I know, are worried about when we’ll find a job and what the future holds for us,” Sayeed said.

Academic switch-up

At the start of the spring semester, journalism senior Aimée Pezina only needed one more class to fulfill her minor in women’s, gender and sexuality studies. The only class in this area available at the time she was able to enroll in was a 3000-level course in a subject she had never taken; a course in economics specifically, the economics of gender.

Even though she knew the class would be a challenge for her, Pezina petitioned the course to qualify for her minor, and she enrolled. Because the class was face-to-face, she was confident she’d be able to study hard and perform well. However, after the University switched to online classes, that confidence disappeared.

“I was a balloon of nerves waiting to pop,” Pezina said. 

Pezina said her professor has done an amazing job transferring the course to work online by incorporating real-time lectures, class discussions and more, but Pezina is still a “ball of nerves” about her performance in the course. 

Missed accomplishments

Because she took four to six classes each semester, worked two or three jobs at the same time and devoted time to volunteering, Pezina said her college experience has revolved around graduation.

In light of the coronavirus, UH’s commencement ceremonies for spring graduates have been postponed till late summer or early fall. Pezina said she’s been trying to take her mind off of the change because there are “more important things happening in the world,” but she still feels let down. 

“I didn’t just scrape by,” Pezina said. “I worked really hard to get my bachelor’s, and without graduation in May, it will feel like it wasn’t an accomplishment.”

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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