Unfastened robes and graduation caps lay in the storage cupboards gathering dust. The books that brought them here are now back on the shelf, blended with the others. Things have gone back to normal. A kind of normal no one ever dreamed of. There is no longer a need to rush or run towards finishing assignments or prep for exams, yet that seems like a better option for the Batch of 2020 who are now graduating on the brink of a brutal recession and unemployment.
Uncertainty has become synonymous while discussing the impact COVID19 has had on our lives. This new normal is being navigated by the millions of Indian students who are on the cusp of graduating. These bright young sparks are striving to break into a market that does not seem likely to welcome them now or in the foreseeable future.
“I fall short of words when you ask me how am I feeling,” says Akriti Sharma, a post-graduate student at Asian College of Journalism. Highlighting the recent job cuts throughout the economy, Sharma adds, “The situation is such that people who had jobs are being laid off, so how can I as a fresher expect to get a job?”
Not landing a job at the end of the year comes as a double whammy for all those passing out of education institutions this year. Many students have seen their academic year brutally cut short and have been forced to enrol for online classes. This also meant a frantic rush for those who stayed in campus accommodation, who were asked to pack their bags in a jiffy and leave. The stress of having to pack up an entire life you’ve left behind and gone back is of course not the easiest task.
“It didn’t feel real that day and for a part of me, it still doesn’t feel real,” says Tanishka Sodhi, a post-graduate student from the graduating batch at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai when asked about the day when she was told to pack her belongings and bid goodbye to her friends and colleagues. The batch was left to carry with them not just the load of their belongings, but also the weight of an unfinished college experience, many of whom still feel the prick of it. “There were several things left unsaid, it felt like someone stole our memories and refused to return them,” adds Sowmya, another student from the same batch at Asian College of Journalism.
“The first couple of days following the announcement, I was busy trying to cheer up people, consoling them & telling them all was not lost,” says Abhinav Chakraborty, a post-graduate student at Asian College of Journalism. “I think we’ll have to redefine what we understand of what’s ‘normal’.”
This new ‘normal’ for many graduates now excludes the conventional vision of having a traditional convocation, which includes wearing gowns and caps, concluding the end of a rigorous academic career with celebration. “Missing out on graduation is a big deal,” says Shwetha Sunil, who after nine months of pursuing her diploma in Journalism was looking forward to unwinding and recollect fond memories with her batchmates.
While the uncertainty mounts, mental health has become a conversation that revolves around the batch of 2020 with many facing excruciating amounts of anxiety and depression, “The hardest part is reading news,” says Shwetha. “It’s freaky, and takes a lot of emotional strength to read the news,” she adds.
Professors all over the country have an especially dangerous task: consoling those students who undoubtedly feel demotivated after graduation. “I see a lot of anxiety among students,” says Dhanya Skarichan, faculty at Asian College of Journalism, adding that there is a growing sense of powerlessness among the students which has brought on by the stressors that come with the pandemic raging on in the country. This is not a normal time and the pressure of being productive can weigh on the deteriorating mental health of students.
This burden to succeed doesn’t involve only recent graduates. It has translated to those who are currently enrolled in their course programs, “The entire academic year is being pushed ahead, therefore getting back on track will involve cutting down our vacation and graduating late,” says Roshni Prasad a postgraduate student enrolled in Manipal University.
There is a strength in togetherness, one that the graduating batch of 2020 and those who are still enrolled continue to feel. As time passes and qualified students continue to remain indoors, only time will tell if respite will come in the form of gainful employment and enriching memories to replace the ones lost to a historic pandemic.