Graduating amid a pandemic was described as a “total upheaval” for graduating college seniors in a Time magazine article published last May. According to the article, COVID-19 disrupted more class time than almost any other event in U.S. history and will have long-lasting effects on the Class of 2020’s memories, earning power and “view of what it means to have a functional society.”
When schools transitioned to virtual learning last school year, many graduating seniors in both college and high school were denied important memories and necessary closure, according to some members of the Class of 2020. These graduates, who graduated from or are currently attending Southern, shared their COVID-19 struggles and explained how they were able to gain closure.
Like most high schoolers, freshman English major Mikayla Zimmerman attended school virtually for the latter half of the 2019-2020 school year. Zimmerman attended Lodi Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in California. And after COVID-19 forced her school to go online, it was difficult to adjust.
“It was kind of hard to obtain closure since our class was very close and we had lots of trips and events planned to end our school year together,” Zimmerman said.
Thankfully, Lodi Academy was able to hold an outdoor drive-in graduation, which Zimmerman described as “very close to how a normal graduation would be.” This helped Zimmerman and her classmates properly end their senior year. And, although she wished she could have created more high school memories, she was happy to move on and make more memories in college.
Freshman liberal arts education major Judeline Pineda was a senior at Mount Pisgah Academy, an Adventist institution in North Carolina. She was on a school-sponsored mission trip in Qacha’s Nek, Lesotho, when Pisgah informed Pineda’s group that South Africa would soon be closing its borders and cancelling flights due to COVID-19. The students were forced to leave Lesotho early, and just two weeks later, Pisgah transitioned to virtual learning. Pineda was sad her class would miss important events. However, most of her class was able to graduate together in July by socially distancing in Pisgah’s gym, which Pineda described as “the best thing that could’ve happened.”
“Just having that experience at Pisgah overall was enough for me,” Pineda said. “I think I’m finally at peace, but still a little bit upset about it.”
Freshman theology major Edvan Benitez was a senior at Milo Adventist Academy in Oregon and found himself in an interesting situation when his school switched to virtual learning. He was an international student, so he and between 30 to 40 other international students stayed on campus for the rest of the winter semester while taking online classes. Many of those students were Benitez’s close friends, and he kept busy spending time with them, taking online classes and serving as a campus chaplain. Milo held a virtual graduation for Benitez’s class, and he and his friends held a mini celebration on campus.
“For me it was kind of different,” Benitez said. “My experience was really good, and I loved my senior year even though we had a pandemic because we were able to stay on campus.”
Adjusting to an anticlimactic senior year was just as difficult for college seniors.
James Carl Brown graduated from Southern last school year with a BBA in accounting and is currently working as a junior accountant for the Potomac Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church while studying to obtain a CPA license. When Southern transitioned to virtual learning last March, Brown struggled not only with adjusting to online classes but also fulfilling his duties as Enactus president.
“They proved that I would have likely made a terrible home-schooled student,” Brown said. “However, I persevered by God’s grace.”
Brown described the lack of closure for his senior year as “palpable.” So, when he learned Southern would be holding a graduation in August, he jumped at the opportunity to attend. The ceremony was more fulfilling than Brown expected and a much-needed event to end his college experience.
Unlike Brown, Sam West, who graduated from Southern last August with a BBA in management, was unable to attend the August graduation because of his job.
In his final college semester, West interned with a software company in downtown Chattanooga called SIGNiX. After Southern transitioned to virtual learning, SIGNiX offered West a full-time job, and he is currently working with them as a business development representative.
“While I didn’t necessarily get the celebration that I hoped for, I was still thankful to God really for this job opportunity that I had,” West said. “[It is] a great job, one that I’m super happy with. So, that really got me through in a huge way.”