What it’s like to finish university during a global pandemic

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It’s an article title I never dreamt I’d write – ‘what it’s like to finish university during a global pandemic’. If somebody had told me even just at New Year that we’d be facing this right now, I’d have probably just laughed. I certainly wouldn’t have believed them. But, I don’t think anybody could have predicted this. Just a couple of weeks before the campus closed, I was receiving emails and dates regarding my graduation. Even then, I never would have guessed it’d have been called off because of a pandemic.

So, what is it like to finish university during a global pandemic? Weird. Scary. Uncertain. Like an odd dream you’d have. To be quite honest, it’s a bit of a rollercoaster. I’m sure many final years will agree when I say that some days, I feel optimistic and grateful. Then other days, the uncertainty of the future makes me anxious. You have this idea in your head of how it’s going to be. You think you’ll finish university, and you’ll walk straight into a job. Whilst it isn’t always this plain sailing in normal circumstances anyway, a pandemic certainly wasn’t going to make it any easier.

I think the abrupt ending makes it harder to deal with. I had no exams, just essays. I literally just pressed ‘submit’ on TurnItIn and that was it, I was finished at university. One day I was making final edits before submission, the next I woke up and I had no university work to do at all. I was so immersed in my dissertation for eight months, and then suddenly it was gone. I thought I’d be relieved to submit it, and in a way I was, but I was also left feeling a little empty and without a purpose.

Of course, all these feelings may have occurred even in normal circumstances. It would have still been the same in terms of submitting the last of your work and then having nothing else to do. However, I can’t help but think that it would have been easier to deal with if things were normal. If we could get out and celebrate. If we could have had a last day on campus. If there was a greater chance of finding work. I’m sure I speak for many students when I say that I had my final seminar, my final lecture, and my final trip on campus without knowing that they would actually be my last. That in itself is strange to comprehend!

And whilst it’s been hard for us all, I’m well aware I’ve had it easy compared to others. More generally speaking, I am in good health and so are my family, which is something to be extremely grateful for at the moment. Even more specifically in terms of university life, I know I’ve still had a relatively easy ride compared to others. As a living-at-home student, I’m familiar with working from home. I’m used to spending a lot of time with my family. I’ve even managed to get involved with some amazing projects, such as the University’s Lockdown Lectures, where I interviewed some of Manchester’s most acclaimed researchers.

So, don’t get me wrong, it certainly hasn’t all been bad. But even in the most positive and optimistic times there’s a dark cloud of uncertainty that looms. I think that’s probably true for most people though, not just final year students. I really sympathise with students that lived in Manchester – as home or international students – that either had to move back home at short notice without a proper goodbye to Manchester or are still in Manchester away from loved ones. I guess all I can say is keep going, this won’t last forever, and things will return to some normality very soon!

I think for everybody right now, including the Class of 2020, that’s the most important thing to remember – this won’t last forever. In the meantime, I’m finding it useful to keep busy, remain proactive when it comes to job hunting, and speak to people that are in a similar position to you. You’re certainly aren’t alone!

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