Confessions of a 2020 Graduate: This Year Was Not Kind To Us

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Raise your hand if you said, “2020 is going to be my year!” Now raise your hand if you feel personally victimized by this new year.

I must confess, this year dragged us to hell and back in a span of four months.

How did we get here?

I spent my last moments of 2019 reviewing the past decade.

2020
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What was your favorite moment? I rummaged my brain for memories of the last 10 years. Gaining some ounce of freedom when I passed my driver’s test. Walking across the stage at my high school graduation. Reveling in the presence of the Great Smoky Mountains. I enjoyed the nostalgia trip, but I looked forward in favor of a brighter future. The prospect of 2020 gleamed brightly in my eyes. The roaring ‘20s. Traveling, graduating from college, finding my dream job, celebrating my 21st birthday and being an adult-adult.

It all seems like a faraway fantasy now.

smoky-mountains
Photo by Danielle Martin

In January I wrote in my journal, “Forget all the other years–THIS is YOUR year. I mean it. So much is going to happen this year and, good or bad, you’re going to get through it. It will teach you about yourself, it will guide you and you will look back to see how much you’ve grown again. That’s what life is like.” Now I’m not saying I foreshadowed this, but it seems that way. That same month, I prepared for a family vacation to celebrate my cousin’s new career journey. Little did I know the disaster rousing in the background. A virus lurked in the shadows, but also bad news about my grandma. The visions of mountains and snowboarding faded; suddenly I found myself at the hospital, sitting in a chair by my grandma’s bedside. The smell of a hospital remains all too familiar and not something I like to remember. Seeing your loved ones, who were once so full of life, lying inactive in a hospital bed paralyzes you. If I sit here and not say anything, I’ll break. If I say something, I’ll break.

My grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 66.

my-grandma
Photo by Danielle Martin

She lived with my family for a few years and then in a nursing home for another few years until the hospital visit. After some time in the hospital, she managed to get better–a surprise, really. I felt like I gained more time to cherish more moments with her. I began spending every day after school with her. The TV played “Reba” in the background. As I sang “I’m a Survivor” out loud, I looked to my grandma. The pinnacle fighter. She made it through one of the toughest moments of her life. Her smile and laugh overwhelmed the room; I missed it. No longer somewhat comatose and inactive, her skin brightened and came back to life. Absorbing these moments, I seared every little second into my brain. She turned 78 on January 28, 2020. The sound of us, a blissful family singing “Happy Birthday” in that large hospice room, deepened the meaning of birthdays. Quite possibly for the first time, I felt like we truly celebrated life.

After that everything started escalating quickly.

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The news of coronavirus ran rampant in that first week of March. To my surprise, the University of Florida (UF) recommended that professors cancel classes. Admittedly, I was happy to stay home for a couple more weeks–an introvert’s most beloved space. I didn’t realize yet how widespread and fast this virus could move. As the possibility of going back to one of my classes loomed, I heard news about coronavirus infiltrating Alachua County. Suddenly, the virus was so close to home. I feared going on campus, so I woke up at 6 a.m. (even though I had a 4 p.m. class) to see if my professor sent out a class cancellation notice. Nothing. I refreshed and refreshed. I decided to send her an email to see where she stood about holding class. With a quick reply, she canceled class. Relief washed over me. Truthfully, I would have gone to class regardless of my fear. Mandatory attendance does that to a student. After that day, UF transitioned entirely online. Zoom University 2020, am I right? My creature-of-habit ways dolefully complied. Although I do prefer to stay at home, I lost my routine and I lost normalcy.

I started making schedules to restore some kind of routine.

Schedule
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I worked ahead in all my classes and fortunately finished one class a month early. I finally felt like I was standing on solid ground and peaking work productivity again until the rug pulled out from under me. Not only did the discussion of UF canceling spring commencement heighten, but my grandma faced a ruthless regression. My brother and I received a call from my parents who went to Tennessee to celebrate their anniversary. In the process of cleaning our house for my mom’s birthday, we abandoned our plans and rushed to the nursing home. Only immediate family during life or death emergencies could enter the nursing home during quarantine lockdown. The nurse met us at the door. Our grandma would make it through the night, she said, which somewhat relieved our pain. We called our dad to settle his mind a bit. My parents rushed to get on the interstate and head back to Florida from Tennessee. I can’t imagine nor describe what my dad felt, being so far away and desperately wanting to get back to his mom. My brother and I spent the whole night with my grandma, taking turns resting on the small empty bed beside her. Eventually, I opted to let my brother sleep for the rest of the night and instead sit in a chair from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. when my parents finally arrived.

My grandma passed away March 16, the day before my mom’s birthday.

my-grandma
Photo by Danielle Martin

Before I even knew it, UF officially announced spring commencement canceled, which didn’t matter too much to me at that point. The virus sparked health concerns and fear, rightfully so, in many of us: this affected funerals, birthdays, celebrations, everyday life. I’m part of the graduating class of 2020. My final year of school will go down in the history books. We faced irreparable losses and I’m not just talking about the graduating class. Worldwide, the virus caused over 200,000 deaths. Over 1,000 people died in Florida. We lost people, jobs and security.

I recently took a graduation survey for my college.

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In recognition of changes caused by the pandemic, UF wanted to know our thoughts moving forward in a time of economic uncertainty. Honestly, I feel uneasy about my job search. Jumping into the workforce poses a new, unusual challenge. Millions of people lost their jobs. How can I make my way into the workforce with limited experience and limited job opportunities? Fortunately, UF supports its alumni. I receive emails daily about career workshops and virtual career fairs. And, as I declared in my journal, I’m going to get through it. I’m going to attend my graduation whether UF holds the ceremony in August or a year from now. I’m going to get a job eventually. I’m going to get to a point where I can recall fond memories of my grandma without falling apart. I’m trying to keep my head up because otherwise, I’ll drown. With that, I’d like to say hats off to the Class of 2020. We made it through school, and we’ll make it through this…together.

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