Colleges and universities across the country recently celebrated graduates from the spring class of 2021. Those degree-holders are entering a job market that looks to be improving, given the wide availability of effective COVID-19 vaccines.
That’s very different from the job market seen by those who graduated last year, as an unchecked pandemic was wreaking havoc on the economy. Many graduates from the class of 2020 have had their job prospects curtailed by the pandemic and are still figuring out how to move forward.
One class of 2020 graduate from Western Kentucky University has been focusing on the positives during what she called her unexpected hiatus.
Months after being sent home to finish her senior year and having graduation cancelled last spring, Remington Mays, who goes by Remi, finally got to have her moment and walked across the stage this May.
Remi had two goals after graduating college: she wanted to go into public relations, and she wanted to travel the world.
Instead, Remi has been living at home and worked at a hardware store while applying for jobs in her field.
As she reflects on her college experience, she says the class of 2020 got the short end of the stick.
“I don’t really know how my senior year would have ended,” Remi said.
“We had our senior projects, and we did them, but it was like, okay classes are over. It wasn’t like, alright if you’re looking for jobs or help--it was like, 'good luck guys.' I don’t know if it would have been different if there wasn’t a pandemic.”
Remi doesn’t blame the university for her senior year, but does say she left campus feeling dissatisfied and inexperienced. She says the lack of experience held her back.
“It's so hard to get experience. When applying to entry level jobs, and they are like a ‘two-year minimum’ How is that an entry level job?” she said.
“It's so frustrating, because I'm like, I did everything I was supposed to do. And I didn't ask for this pandemic. And now I feel like essentially, they're skipping over the class of 2020. Altogether, like, 'Oh, you know, sorry, that happened to you. But we're going to move on to class of 2021 now.'”
Remi had an internship opportunity fall through because they were only accepting 2021 graduates and wouldn't make an exception.
The WKU graduate, along with many others, is going up against a pandemic, a recession, and an unexpected competition in the job market.
Remi’s dad, Kevin Mays, gave his daughter advice on what to do next, but he admits that parents don’t fully understand what the class of 2020 is experiencing.
“When I got out of college, yeah, I struggled to get started with my career, but it happened. I didn't have to fight a virus. I didn't have to fight a world shutting down and not being able to go somewhere to interview,” Mays explained.
Increased Mental Challenges for College Grads During Pandemic
Some 2020 graduates are also battling with their mental health.
Remi says she’s had her bad days, but is blessed to have had food and a roof over her head during the pandemic.
“It does get to you like, don't get me wrong, I've cried over like not having a graduation,” she said.
A recent survey conducted by the Prichard Committee, a Lexington based non-profit, asked nearly 1,000 Kentucky college students about their mental health during the pandemic.
The survey showed 74% of respondents said they felt an increase of mental or emotional exhaustion due to COVID-19. It also revealed 57% felt an increase in anxiety, and 17% had thoughts of suicide.
“It’s important that folks understand where students are right now,” said Brigitte Ramsey, president and CEO of the Prichard Committee. “And understand that we're in a very difficult time facing a very difficult situation, socially and mentally, and that we, young adults, college students, need some grace.”
Ramsey’s analysis of the study’s results confirms something Kevin Mays has been worried about.
“My fear is that there is a psychological impact going on with these students that they're going to get lost,” Kevin explained.
“This is going be a lost class. They're being skipped over by employers looking for who's coming out of the universities now.”
Although that part of her life felt like a hiatus, Remi remained contagiously optimistic about life post- pandemic.
“It's not forever. Hopefully in five years from now, we can all be like, 'haha, remember that little virus?'” Remi said with a smile.
“I just keep telling myself, it's not forever, you know, things will always get better.”
Things did in fact get better. Remi just accepted a job this month as the Social Media Coordinator for the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington DC.