I graduated college during a pandemic.
That is a sentence I see myself saying in the future if God allows me to live through the dark times we are seeing.
I can see it as a bonding moment for the class of 2020.
“Remember that time when we were sent home in March because of Covid-19 and we had to take classes via Zoom and despite the obstacles we still graduated and were given our degrees through the mail?”
In the beginning when colleges first started sending students home, it was hectic and confusing, and students lived in a state of anxiety. My college, Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, took their time to finally send us home.
The confusion followed us home, especially as a journalism major. I was taking three journalism classes: documentary storytelling, engagement journalism and a special topics class on politics and media.
The last class was an easy shift, as the only thing left to do for the semester was to write a group research paper. The first two classes were the problem.
For documentary storytelling, there were many assignments that geared around interviewing a subject and then filming that subject over the course of some weeks. Instead, we conducted a socially distanced video interview and did 10 videos of “Covid-19 diaries”.
Engagement journalism was a class that required heavy involvement in the community. We were working with children at Campus Clubs, an organization that teaches children values and life skills. We were also in the middle of planning a big engagement event for the Macon community. Our professor was questioning us like, what now? What do y’all think we should do? How are we going to do engagement journalism, which is community-focused, while sheltered-in-place?
Class assignments eventually shifted into something doable. After classes were figured out, the next thing to figure out was graduation. There was also a lot of confusion surrounding graduation. Are we having a ceremony? Will it be canceled? Is it going to be virtual?
I was supposed to graduate May 11, 2020. It was postponed to August. I wasn’t going to attend the May 11 ceremony, and I didn’t attend the August ceremony. I was saddened knowing I wouldn’t attend my college graduation. But after my cap and gown arrived through the mail along with my degree and several chords, my family threw me a virtual graduation via Zoom, which erased those initial feelings.
I discovered it’s hard to find a job when you graduate during a pandemic. During spring break, I applied to a news outlet out of Savannah, GA, but then of course Covid-19 sparked up in the United States later that month. The job interview went really well and I had my mind on that’s likely where I’ll be when I graduate, but when I followed up, they said they were no longer hiring due to the pandemic.
As the weeks went by, April, May, I started seeing less and less journalism job openings on boards such as Indeed. So taking advice from my friend and fellow Joshua’s Truth co-founder, I went to the Final Call Newspaper and said hey, I just officially graduated on May 11 and am available to work.
My relationship with the Final Call started when I was 15. Or was it 14? Even I forget how long it’s been. But I did the math, and the math says 15. I started with the paper by writing mainly opinion-based articles for the Youth Speak section. I went on to start helping them cover national events put on by the Nation of Islam, such as Saviours’ Day and the Holy Day of Atonement. Now, I’m writing news articles on a weekly basis.
The light at the end of the tunnel has been writing for the Final Call (and getting paid in doing so). One of my favorite stories, which I myself recognized as worthy to be nominated for an award before one of my editors messaged me and told me so, was a story on how parents of autistic and intellectually disabled children were feeling about the death of Elijah McClain. Another story on human rights violations by America police made the cover of the paper.
Working for the Final Call has allowed me to explore what I learned during my four years of college and expand on my writing skills.
I also have breathing room that I wouldn’t have had with any other job. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday have been my primary work days. It can be stressful to turn around an important story in less than two days, but alas, that’s the life of a journalist.
I’ve been able to give more attention to Joshua’s Truth. During college, I was bogged down and stressed out from essays and exams, but now I can really focus on the magazine and make sure we’re posting regularly and posting quality content.
The light of the tunnel is also having the time to work on personal projects. I spent the last days of my senior year and post-graduation working on a poetry book, first arranging the poems and putting together the actual book and then recording all of the poems and putting those together. Now I’m on the cover phase, and I put myself on a timeline of tasks to accomplish up to its release date.
In January 2020 I was on the panel for an annual journalism event Mercer puts on for prospective students, an event I attended as a prospective student in 2015. But when I was on the panel, I was, of course, asked the question of where I see myself in one year. I’ve never liked answering questions like that because only God knows what the future holds. January 2020 now seems like a whole different reality than the one we live in today. Who knew three months later the country would be shutting down from a pandemic? Who knew the world was on the brink of mass change?
A large part of my journey since being quarantined has been about adapting to the new reality we live in and not focusing on what I wasn’t able to do. I graduated. I write for a paper that has the same standards and values that I hold. I’m able to focus on myself more and work on my personal projects. I give more much-needed attention to Joshua’s Truth.
I graduated college during a pandemic, but I found light at the end of the tunnel.