Do Not Ask the Class of 2020: “What’s Next?”

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For the class of 2020, the “real” world never painted an unwelcoming job market, a virtual graduation, a loss of senior year traditions or overwhelming unpredictability. With all these variables, the class of 2020 has not been able to celebrate their successes or plan adequately for the future. In a hustle-obsessed culture, we often lead with curiosity that can pressure graduates into sharing their next steps. Even if you feel inclined to, do not ask the class of 2020: “what’s next?” 

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate hit an all-time high of 14.7% in April of this year—a spike unseen since the Great Depression. For those aged 20-24, the unemployment rate rises to 25.7%. Safe to say, the class of 2020 is entering a labor landscape saturated in anxiety and unpredictability.

 “In January, we were all looking to graduate into the best job market ever. Now, all of a sudden, we have to enter the worst since the Great Depression,” says recent graduate Robert McWilliams. “It is incredibly frustrating.” 

McWilliams continued to share his frustration regarding how recent graduates are not a priority for most companies, at this time.

Many graduates are trying to remain positive by spending the summer searching for any opportunity in their field. Recent biobehavioral health graduate, Mikaela Seufer, is hoping to gain experience this summer that will keep her on track for PA school.

She says, “Personally, I believe life should always contain some element of challenge because it shows that you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, but if I’m being honest, the post-college life has been another level of challenging due to the global pandemic.”

Seniors, like Seufer, left State College glamorizing a return of blue and white weekend, bar crawls, graduation and other senior year festivities. How can we best help comfort these graduates? The answer is not in plaguing them with questions about the future.

Post-grad questions can carry very heavy undertones. These thoughts are already echoing in the minds of our graduates. Am I doing enough? Should I be applying to more places? What will my aunt think of me? Do I bring graduate school back to the table? How will I afford living expenses this coming year?

We, spectators, are called to give compassion and sympathy at this time. The commentary and advice from family members, friends, neighbors, etc add more stress to an already burdening situation. It is in fact an unprecedented time to be entering the workforce. Resist the urge to interrogate a recent graduate about their future plans. Learn to lend an active ear. Help them process this new time without redirecting the conversation towards yourself. 

Our emphasis should be placed on comforting the recent graduate who envisioned a better, brighter ending. Do not ask them: “what’s next?”

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