College Graduation is a huge milestone in anyone’s life. College graduation is one of life’s last clean transitions, a final passage from adolescence to adulthood that is predictable in ways other transitions rarely are. Relationships end with breakups or death, jobs often end with quitting or firing, but college is one of the only things in life that ends with a fresh start. Except when it doesn’t. College graduation is often marked by an adjustment period, as students leave the comforts of campus to find their way in the raw wilderness of the job market. But this year’s graduates are staggering into a world that is in some ways unrecognizable. But graduating in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic will have enduring implications on the Class of 2020: for their memories, their earning power, and their view of what it means to have a functional society. For these young adults, the pandemic represents not just a national crisis but also a defining moment.Even when colleges are trying their best to give students a memorable farewell, an event that they have looked forward to during their college years many don’t know if they will ever have a chance at bidding their crucial years a heartfelt goodbye. The end of college marks an important turn in the lives of students, who are finally eager to carve a place in the world. The farewell is an important milestone in this journey as everything culminates to this very day. Even before COVID-19, the Class of 2020 came of age at a time of fear and uncertainty. Born largely in 1997 and 1998—among the oldest of Gen Z—the Class of 2020. For the Class of 2020, COVID-19’s lasting impact may be determined by what happens next. If the rising cohort of young workers are left to fend for themselves, mass youth unemployment could lead to permanent disillusionment or widespread despair.
A forceful, effective response that invests in the rising generation of American talent could restore their faith in the system.
It’s not clear to the Class of 2020 how the pandemic will play out. They just know it will change their livesThe Class of 2020 hugged their closest friends and mourned their lost semester, but scattered back home without so much as a goodbye to many people they’d lived with for years. Acquaintances who laughed in hallways or shared inside jokes in seminars simply disappeared. Fraternities and sororities canceled their formals and philanthropy events, attempting Zoom happy hours that didn’t come close to the real thing. For some couples, casual hookups quickly escalated into long-distance relationships. Others quietly packed up their feelings for college crushes and left without saying a word. Instead of graduating into their future lives, many Class of 2020 seniors feel like they’ve gone backward. Graduating into a bad economy can affect everything from future earnings to long-term health and happiness. All of this—the forgone memories, the abrupt goodbyes, the lost opportunities—will stay with the Class of 2020 forever. They know that the pandemic will shape their futures, even if it’s not yet clear exactly how. The pandemic has marked the end of one phase for this unlucky cohort. The recovery could mark the beginning of another.