thoughts on a pandemic graduation one year later
Graduating during a pandemic really fucking sucked. One year later, it doesn't really feel much better.
Look, I'm aware that pandemic content is fucking boring these days unless it's news or actual thoughtful discourse or reportage. I also despise reading think pieces by pretentious LinkedIn influencers about how the pandemic revolutionized productivity and made big corporate realize that their employees were actually much happier working from home than dealing with their stupid in-person rules and etiquette expectations; I mean, at least at home you won't have the random 40-year-old in the office staring at your ass.
Considering this is my blog, though, I've decided that despite the absolute abundance of shitty pandemic experiences (and like, privileged shitty, not genuinely tragic), I want to write this post.
It's been a year since I graduated, and while I'm mostly over the whole experience, it still stings. Considering there's a whole new group of people graduating online this year, I thought you might want to know what to expect one year later.
Spoiler alert: it doesn't get fucking better.
Maybe I'm dramatic. It can get better, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will. Let me rewind.
I had so much hinged on the fact that I would be able to finish my undergraduate career on campus. I spent all of my last year of college knowing it would be the last, but I left the actual enjoyment to my final semester. Back in January 2020, I thought that the next five months would be the best months of college.
Without getting too much into it, that shit just did not work out, even before March 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and I flew back home to Mumbai. I was admittedly delusional back then: I thought we'd return by May. But then the emails began rolling in, and it became abundantly clear that I would finish my undergraduate degree online and probably never get to spend time with my friends on campus ever again.
As you can imagine... that hit hard.
By the time May rolled around, I had absolutely no fucks to give about my academics that semester. I know I submitted really subpar finals, but I just couldn't bring myself to care. Admittedly, I had a decent GPA and an unconditional acceptance to a Master's program, so that safety net helped. Regardless, I like caring about the work I turn in, but last year beat that idealism right out of me. The only thing I cared about at that point was getting done with college, finishing the yearbook (so that I had something to show for that final semester), and figuring out what I was going to do next.
Only 1 of those 3 brought me joy. The yearbook was the only highlight of my final year. Going through everyone's submitted college stories, tallying votes for the superlatives section, and even designing all of the portrait pages made me ache so desperately for all the time I lost on campus. It was hard, but the final product was so fucking worth it. I'm glad I did it, which is why it felt fitting to release that yearbook on the day we were supposed to graduate.
I'll be honest: I had everything planned out for that day. I'd bought my saree for the occasion back in December 2019, I was looking forward to the degeneracy of Senior Week, and I was nearly in tears just thinking about how many people I was going to be seeing for the last time.
Of course, I didn't get any of that. I got nothing. I said goodbye to 3 years of my life behind a screen with a glass of rum and coke in my hand and only memories to ease the grief.
To this day, it feels so unfulfilling. I'm past it all, of course; 1 year has been enough time for me to come to terms with everything I didn't get to experience for the last time, but sometimes, randomly, it crosses my mind, and the dissatisfaction doesn't go away for a few hours.
It's like reliving that grief all over again, every time a bit more condensed to the point that I'm afraid I might have forgotten all the good memories and kept only the painful ones.
It really doesn't get much better after graduation, by the way, for those of you who don't know that feeling yet. I'm a super goal-oriented person; I like milestones and I like using them to measure time and progress. At college, you have very established milestones in the form of semesters. It divides your year very neatly, so you always know what to (mostly) expect.
When you get out of college and have to deal with a job or freelancing or whatever the fuck it is you plan on doing, time becomes a lot less straightforward. For the last year, I haven't known how to measure time and progress. Am I stagnating? Am I moving forward? Is something in my life improving, or am I officially stuck in one place? I know I go to grad school this August, but until then, how do I measure my time? In PTOs? In salaries? In vaccine doses? How do I know what's to come?
My brain has been unable to comprehend any of this, so I overload it with work that's deadline-oriented so that I can actually feel like I'm moving forward. Even then, it feels misguided and abstract. Nobody ever told me life post-college would feel so unstructured. Maybe it's a product of working from home all the time, but it just feels so aimless.
I haven't spoken to enough recently-graduated people to know if this is a universal experience, and I'd like to hope that it is just so that I can feel a bit normal about these feelings. Ultimately, not only did graduating online rob me of the final few weeks of feeling ultimate freedom, it also could not mentally prepare me for the major life transition that was about to come. I deferred entry to grad school because online learning just seemed like the worst thing possible, so I had to get a job. Once I got a job, I didn't know what to aspire towards anymore.
I've word-vomited for about 1050 words now, so I'm going to wrap this up. Basically, my thoughts on a pandemic graduation one year later are:
- This shit sucks ass
- I miss my friends
- I miss campus parties
- I wish I could have seen my dorm room one last time
- I wish I could do my final year all over again so that I could focus on mending bridges and actually feeling happy rather than burning bridges and having a constant BT
- The "real world" has no concept of time, and it's entirely up to you to rewire your brain into NOT measuring time through milestones and deadlines so that you don't get stuck constantly chasing the next achievement to feel like you have some value in this world
- My graduation saree was really pretty, and I'm sad I never got to wear it
- If you're graduating online right now, my condolences
- I can't wait for grad school so I can base my self-worth on academia again ✌🏻