The Graduates: How Life Has Been For Batch 2020 A Year Into The Pandemic

Not a lot of people had a rollercoaster of the past year as batch 2020 did.

Batch 2020 graduated college in the middle of a pandemic and entered a world that was in deep change. We caught up with some of them to see how life has been in the past year.

2020 was supposed to be a year of joy for many a graduating class. After years of hard work, sweat, tears, and a little bit of blood, batch 2020 could finally see their work come to fruition with graduation. Spending the last months in school, going to graduation, wearing the toga, having fun with friends, and living best lives, these are all things one looks forward to, especially by batch 2020.

But as we all know, the year turned out to be unlike any other. The graduating class of 2020 was the first set of students to enter the real world in the middle of a pandemic and enter a challenged job market that did not have the ability to welcome them. So, how were they able to cope in the past year? To answer this question and more, we interviewed a few members of batch 2020 to see how life has been since graduating to see how the past year changed and shaped their lives.

Related: How I, A Fresh Graduate, Got A Job During The Pandemic (Hint: It Wasn’t Easy)

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LAST DAYS OF SCHOOL

Everything changed when the pandemic hit. Public life was put to a standstill including the final semester of the graduates. Some felt that the initial cancelation of classes wouldn’t last long. “To be quite honest, when I heard about the pandemic, I thought that it would only last a few days or weeks,” says Niko.

Some felt that the cancelation of classes was a short moment of relief. “I was a bit happy that school was canceled. I felt like this was the break I needed from school because all the homework and assignments were piling up,” shares Donna, 22.

But what initially was a few weeks to a month of class cancelation turned into an indefinite suspension of face-to-face classes. Just like that, batch 2020 had its final days on campus. It was a moment all of the interviewed graduates described as a sad time.

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“It was disappointing, to say the least. There was so much that I felt like I missed out, but for me, the most disappointing thing would be not being able to walk down the aisle and receive my diploma after many years and say goodbye properly to my college,” recalls Niko. Sofee felt bad that she missed the smaller things of campus life. “It felt like something was missing, like there was all this build-up to the milestones in my life then suddenly they’re not going to happen.”

For others, it was more of mixed emotions. On one hand, Donna felt happy that she no longer needed to study and do homework, but on the other hand, she was upset because she was robbed of face-to-face graduation, and the org events that they were planning got canceled. “It kind of felt anti-climactic that my college experience had to end like this.” Prai felt the same way, adding, “While I was relieved about not having to worry about grades anymore, I also felt like I wasn’t ready to graduate yet. I felt like I still had so much I had to learn. I felt so lost.”

THE JOB HUNT

By last May, batch 2020 were now college graduates. They were the first set of college students to enter the world forever altered by the pandemic. Life was messy at that time, to say the least. Because of this, the graduates we interviewed all had different plans by the time they graduated. For Doni, she knew that the job market she was entering was not good for her batch, so she didn’t feel that resting for a while and taking her time was a viable option. “I wasn’t certain of finding a full-time position immediately, but I was still focused on finding an agency to work in.”  For Donna, she settled on getting internships. “I wanted to gain more experience working in the field that I wanted before applying for a job.”

Niko and Prai were already taking side jobs while sending out resumes for a full-time job. Prai taught ESL classes at night and would job hunt during the day. Niko did freelance work while sending his resume to companies looking for graphic designers or social media managers. Sofee, meanwhile, didn’t really have a plan. “I took a short break, enjoyed my dalgona coffee, and started some online courses. Though I can’t really say I ever felt like I had everything together. I was just trying my best to feel like I did and take it one day at a time.”

If having their last semester in college unceremoniously cut off was a sour feeling for the graduates, the job search proved to be a whole other beast. Trying to find a job in the middle of a pandemic as a fresh graduate was not easy, and the graduates expressed how it was anything but a walk in the park.

By June 2020, Doni was trying to find a job at an agency since her specialty is in PR and marketing. “I submitted my application to an agency once. I didn’t get in because they were looking for more senior workers, and I felt that I was still inexperienced to work full-time.” After she got rejected, she shifted to looking for internships mainly in the Ateneo Jobs and Internships Facebook Group. She applied for a few internships before accepting one from a startup.

For Prai, she was circling around doing two different options, either teaching or working at a digital marketing agency. The first job she got post-graduation was as a reading enrichment preschool teacher. It only lasted a few months before she found work at a startup PR company. Unfortunately, the job and the company as a whole proved to be a horrible working experience making her quit. Soon, she found a less toxic position at an established marketing company. But despite finding three full-time jobs in 2020, the process to find them was not easy. “The job search was very tiring. I’d send about 20-40 applications a day. At that time, a lot of people lost their jobs. It was really difficult being a fresh grad because I was competing with people who already had years of work experience.”

Since Niko was skilled at graphic design, there wasn’t a shortage of jobs he could have applied for since a lot of companies pivoted to online business. “I was in a handful of Facebook groups that regularly post job openings, so I started from there. I looked through various agencies that had openings, local shops that needed social media managers, and the like. And I also applied to some internships that were available for graduates as well.”

Luckily, all the interviewed members from batch 2020 are still currently employed. Doni was brought on as a full-time employee in the startup she interned for. Prai works part-time at a marketing company and also handles the social media accounts of her dad’s businesses. Niko is working as a junior graphic designer at a bakery and dessert shop. Donna works at a PR company while Sofee is part of the social media team of a local cosmetics company.

Working at a job in a middle of a pandemic is not easy, especially if it is your first full-time job. Having to do everything remotely and rarely, if never meeting your co-workers face to face may prove to be challenging. But for the group, the experience so far in their jobs has been great. Some credit that to the culture their bosses created. “They trusted us enough to give us autonomy, and a lot of the learnings I had weren’t just technical aspects of the job, but most especially the philosophical side of working in a marketing position,” says Doni

“With my current part-time job, I really enjoy it. Since I was there when the social media accounts were created, I more or less have a better understanding of the brand and what content I can make for it. It’s not as taxing on my mental health,” details Prai. She added that since it’s a part-time job, she also has time to pursue other opportunities, like how she’s currently applying for schools to pursue a second degree.

“It’s been great! I can set up my work hours better, plan ahead for deliverables that are needed earlier, and have more time to rest my eyes, given that my job includes staring at my computer screen for several hours a day,” explains Niko.

A MENTALLY TAXING YEAR

2020 was a hard year for a lot of people, not just physically or financially, but mentally as well. The world being in a constant state of crisis and being cooped up at home for more than a year has caused some people’s mental health to deteriorate or struggle. But for batch 2020, the past year proved to be especially difficult because of the shortened school year, rushed graduation, and entering a job market that was figuratively on fire. Most of the graduates were not psychologically prepared to end their final year in college that quick and were not prepared to deal with both a pandemic and the pressures of finding a job. The interviewees could relate to this as exemplified by Prai’s answers.

“I was definitely at my worst. It was so frustrating to not be able to see your friends or not be able to do anything. I felt like my life just revolved around working from home. On top of that, I felt like I was under pressure from both work and myself. When I graduated I felt like I was so unready for anything. When I entered high-pressure industries, It made me feel like I wasn’t good enough or that I was dumb.  It was hard to deal with this during a pandemic.”

She continues, “‘Yung feeling mo, stressed na stressed ka na sa trabaho mo. Frustrated ka sa situation mo tapos pagtingin mo pa sa news, frustrating din ‘yung nangyayari around you. When you do vent or talk to your friends, it just doesn’t feel the same because you’re not actually together. You’re just interacting through a webcam. Parang it’s so easy to feel alone and insecure during this time.”

A CHANGED LIFE AND A CHANGED PERSPECTIVE

The pandemic has changed many people’s lives, for the better and for the worse. This is something that the graduates all agreed upon. The people who they are now are not who they thought they would become. Take for example their current jobs. Most of them said that they wouldn’t have seen themselves in the job they have now. “Start-ups never crossed my mind until the pandemic happened. Pre-pandemic, I would’ve pursued more agencies, or went for more established corporations. But now, I feel like I can’t turn back after experiencing a start-up,” says Doni.

“I would’ve thought that I would be entering a position under advertising since that was what I focused my studies on. But here I am, working as a graphic designer and I’m glad for it because it’s what I love doing the most,” expresses Niko.

The pandemic has also brought a sense to some of the members of batch 2020 that their futures have been fundamentally altered, or at least has affected what they originally had planned for themselves. As Doni reflects, “[The pandemic] definitely changed my career path and how I envisioned my life would be. I definitely don’t see myself doing the same thing I thought I wanted to do before the pandemic happened.”

For Prai, she pressured herself into finding a stable job. “I felt so desperate for a new job just because I felt like I needed to have a steady source of income. I never really assessed whether or not I was happy in the industry that I’m in. It made me realized that I wasn’t really that passionate about PR/Digital Marketing and that I was kind of forcing myself to do pursue those industries because it’s what I studied in college.”

Niko and Donna though are keeping things hopeful. While Niko has re-evaluated his plans, he hopes that he can do some things he wanted to do pre-pandemic like apply for art school and get a degree in graphic design. Donna feels blessed and thankful that she has a full-time job that she enjoys and is happy that she achieved it during the pandemic. Sofee, meanwhile, knows that she’s changed, but that “I know that it’ll keep changing. That’s okay!”

The pandemic and the past year have also made a profound effect on how they see their lives. “It changed in such a way that taking chances on opportunities became more important to me,” ascertains Doni.

For Niko, the past year made him realize “not to take the time and moments we experience with our loved ones for granted, and to enjoy and allow yourself to experience these moments, good or bad. There were a lot of moments that made me wish I was there to experience it myself; moments even that I should have done and not walked out on.”

REFLECTING ON A YEAR UNLIKE ANY OTHER

It’s clear then that 2020 was an eye-opening year for many people, both young and old. As the first batch of college graduates to enter the real world during a pandemic, batch 2020 got a crash course on how tough it can be in society. Batch 2020 experienced a lot of new things, both good and bad, for the first time in the past year which brought with them lessons learned. One of the biggest takeaways the interviewees got from last year is the importance of taking care of oneself physically, emotionally, and mentally.

“The past year made me realize the importance of having a work-life balance. It made me realize that my job doesn’t really define me. I have other things that I can pursue. Life isn’t a race. I shouldn’t compare my progress to other people. Take it easy. I shouldn’t be too hard on myself because we’re all just trying to figure out life,” says Prai. Meanwhile, Sofee adds, “Give yourself room to cry, to live your life. Self-care isn’t overrated!”

For others, they also learned to make the most out of their time and being adaptable to their current situation. “Even if you have your life planned out, everything can change because of things out of your control. I also learned how important it is to maintain your relationships with the people you love the most because they really get you through the toughest times,” says Donna.

So, from a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, how would the graduates rate how the last year went for them? For Doni, she’d rate it a 5. Why? “Because 2020 was definitely not the best year. I’d say it’s one of the worst, but I can’t deny the fact that I also gained something life-changing last year.” Prai would rate it a 3. “I think that I was under the most stress last year but it was definitely an eye-opening experience because I learned so much about life. It made me realize that I wasn’t in the right industry.”

Niko thinks last year was a 5. “There were many things that I regret doing and not have been able to do, and a lot of discouraging moments. But I can’t say it was all bad given that it also made me realize what I wanted to do (and to avoid doing) in the future, and reignited my passion to do graphic design as a profession.”

Donna chose 5 and says, “I think I’m really privileged to have been able to land a job despite the pandemic. However, I also acknowledge the fact that it’s been a hard year for everyone, both physically and emotionally. It’s really hard for me to fully be happy knowing that so many people out there are struggling even more because of this pandemic.” Sofee, meanwhile, gave her 2020 experience an 8 and she credits that to a mix of hard work and luck.

ADVICE FOR BATCH 2021

Finally, with batch 2021 just recently graduating, they are currently the newest generation to enter the world scared by the pandemic. And while they may be a little bit more prepared than batch 2020, it doesn’t mean things are going to be easy out there. Here is what advice the members of batch 2020 we interviewed had for batch 2021.

Doni: “You don’t have to be in a specific position or point in your career or life that you planned just because you had certain achievements in college. This point in adulthood shows you that there are things in college to also unlearn from. But at the same time, it doesn’t hurt to be aspirational. At a time like this, I think hopes and dreams become a candle that can light people’s path more than ever.”

Prai: “You’re more than your job. It’s so important to have a life outside your career. When you see these as things that are just as important as your job, then you would have an easier time achieving a work-life balance. Your personal time is important and should be respected. Even if you’re under a lot of pressure, make sure that you’re taking care of your physical body and mental health. Don’t be afraid to try things and make mistakes. Never ever compare your growth to your batchmates or other people“

Niko: “My advice is not to limit yourself to what you know. There might be people who may think it’s too late to try, it’s really never too late. Be open to different opportunities, and never throw away what makes you happy. Also, be kind to yourself and have patience. Not everything will go as you planned it, but something better always comes for us in the future. We simply need to move on so we can grab it.”

Donna: “I want them to tell them that it’s okay for them to be uncertain. We’re all still really young and we’re still figuring ourselves out. It’s better for them to really take the time to think about what they want. It’s hard to be stuck doing something you don’t like nor enjoy.”

Sofee: “Be kind to yourself and take things one step at a time! Everyone has their own pace.”

Continue Reading: Young Filipino Freelancers Get Real About What It’s Like Being A Freelancer

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