The class of 2022 will be the third in a row to graduate into a pandemic. With graduation season underway, seniors are facing a mix of emotions: excitement to be finishing a college education that consisted of more Zoom classes than they imagined, sadness about the experiences they missed out on during COVID, anxiety about entering the job market, and uncertainty about what comes next.
Teen Vogue spoke to nine college graduates about their thoughts on finishing school and what advice they would give to the younger students following behind them.
Iyana Jones-Reese, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
I will have two in-person graduation ceremonies. I have some concerns about COVID, just [being] around so many people in the stadium at once. The one positive is that we are able to choose who we sit near, so I’ll be sitting with my roommates and two of our friends for the larger ceremony. The school is following the current [state COVID] guidelines, but I would have preferred they do it like last year where they split it up into multiple ceremonies so people could be spaced out on the field.
I’m super excited for this new chapter in my life, but I’m very nervous about moving to a new city, especially following the recent year. I was able to get my job because of the pandemic. The company was fully virtual for quite a while and because of that I was able to work remotely as an intern, which is transitioning into a full-time job after I move and graduate in like 3 weeks. I am very excited to be done with school. I will miss some of the structure and the environment, but I’m ready to not feel so burnt out. I experienced a lot of burnout due to homework and at-home assignments, so it will be nice to be in an environment where you don’t have to worry about homework or tests.
Clare Daly, Salve Regina University
I am honestly excited, nervous, and terrified. I’m not so worried about finding a job as I’ve been lucky enough to gain experience from multiple virtual internships, but I am trying to avoid burnout by giving myself a break. I’m curious to see what real nine-to-five-style office life is like. Most of the places I’ve interviewed with are on a hybrid schedule and I think I’d prefer that to be fully virtual or fully in-person.
I’m trying not to worry about being unemployed at graduation, but I’m so excited to join the real world when the right opportunity comes along. I love school and learning, but I’m beyond eager to finally be doing what I love — communications and social media — full-time.
Aleksandra Goldberg, New York University
I would tell younger students to listen to their interests. I spent a lot of time following what I thought I should be doing or thought I should be interested in and it left me questioning myself. Follow the subjects you really enjoy. It's your life. You should spend it doing something you love. Also, don't worry about other people's timelines. It's really easy to get wrapped up in what your friends and peers are doing, but we're all on our own journeys. Think about what's best for you, while being respectful and kind, of course.
Serena Zets, Oberlin College
I graduated early from Oberlin College in December 2021 and had a lackluster mini Zoom graduation to commemorate that. I’m excited to return to campus for the festivities and reconnect with my community there, but I do also experience a lot of COVID anxiety.
My college experiment was already challenging before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the introduction of remote learning and my lack of connection, focus, and productivity in the remote environment caused me to decide to graduate early. In the five months since I graduated, I have found that all of my fears and excitement were well-founded. I am very fortunate to be employed, housed, and financially independent this quickly after graduation, but post-grad life is still full of so many unique challenges that college doesn't prepare you for. I have been finding it most difficult to figure out how to spend my time now that I am not over-scheduled or socialized all the time. I’ve been spending a lot of time remembering and relearning what activities or hobbies sustain, fuel, and excite me and that has been very fulfilling and revelatory.
My advice to younger students is to seek connection and community at your school because those meaningful ties will stay with you beyond your four years.
Ana Sofia Barrios, Columbia University
We will be having an in-person makeup ceremony. Since they are combining both the class of 2020 and the class of 2021 [both of which had virtual ceremonies] for the [in-person] ceremony I will be attending, it will probably be a large one. While I'm not concerned about myself, I have been a bit worried about my grandparents, who are very old and are thinking of attending.
I am extremely ready to graduate. These past few years have been exhausting in many ways and I am really looking forward to having a break from dealing with the pandemic while studying and working multiple jobs all at the same time. School during most of the pandemic was all work and none of the regular college fun, so there sadly wasn't a lot to miss by the time I graduated.
*Michaela, Louisiana Tech University
Our graduation ceremony is going to be in-person, but you can file a request for conferral of your degree in absentia if circumstances make your attendance impossible. I have fewer COVID concerns since there are going to be fewer people at my ceremony and I'm going at 9 a.m., so the room will still be fresh, but I am still pretty concerned. I’m going to have my mask on at all times except when I'm on stage and this makes me feel a bit out of place. Our school does not have mandates anymore and this is a special occasion so I don’t expect people to wear their masks and I fear that people will see me as uptight or something.
Carly Holmes, The University of Maryland, College Park
I'm definitely feeling a mixture of nervousness and excitement. On one hand, this is a scary time to graduate. Between the pandemic, political turmoil, racial and sex-based violence, an economic downturn, and war there is a lot to be nervous about. However, I am also super excited to be done with school.
I know a lot of people will tell you your major, your degree, or college is useless. Don't listen to them. You worked hard as hell for that degree. Don't feel discouraged. You will find a job, you will survive, and you will thrive.
Seeing so many Black people and people of color graduating this year against all the odds stacked against us is so beautiful and refreshing. I hope we all win!
*Michela, Mount Holyoke College
Our graduation ceremony is going to be in-person but also streamed online. It's going to be pretty big. I definitely have COVID-related concerns for the ceremony. Everyone coming to graduation needs to provide proof of vaccination [or a negative test], but I still wish the ceremony was going to be outdoors. Even with a 99% vaccination rate at my school, cases have been steadily increasing on campus since the end of March and we've been having record numbers of cases for the school year the past two weeks. Last week it was announced that the school had run out of isolation housing and students would have to quarantine in their residence halls if they tested positive. [It’s all] especially disconcerting as family members will be traveling from around the country and the world to attend graduation and mask mandates have been lifted on planes. It does kind of feel like I'm about to be graduating at a super-spreader event.
I am excited to be done with undergrad, but I can't help but feel the experience is a bit incomplete. I only got to experience one full year of college pre-pandemic, my sophomore year got cut short, and my junior year was entirely on Zoom. I feel like a lot of this year has been spent trying to make up for lost time, but at some point, I had to sit myself down and accept that there's no way to do everything I wanted and planned to do and that's just the reality of life at the moment.
Taylor Brown, Columbia University
Our graduation ceremony is traditionally held outside with separate ceremonies for each undergraduate college, and we are returning to a full, traditional graduation ceremony this year. Columbia has very small class sizes to begin with, so separation by college allows for the entire ceremony to fit on one lawn. I think this size and venue, as well as the university's requirement for all students, faculty, and visitors to be fully vaccinated, is very conducive to a COVID-19 safe environment.
As my time at Columbia comes to a close, I have been feeling especially nostalgic. I think most of it can be attributed to having spent a full year of college on Zoom, thousands of miles from New York City and my college friends.
My biggest piece of advice is to remember that college is not meant to be the best four years of your life. It is an insanely exciting time that moves faster than you can imagine, but putting this pressure of the best four years on it is unnecessary and limiting. Embrace everything college has to offer you, but remember that you have so much life left to live after graduation.
*Editor's note: Two students preferred not to use their last names.
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