Graduates deserve our confidence, not doubt

With the end of a new semester comes a fresh batch of graduates about to embark on their next chapter of life. Some go to graduate school or pursue internships, while others enter the workforce. Regardless of each student’s next step, the conclusion of the semester is an exciting time for all graduates, and it’s a time for new beginnings and celebrations.

However, education as a whole has looked different since spring of last year. It has not been safe to hold a traditional commencement ceremony since fall 2019, let alone host in-person classes.

College students everywhere have been attending classes online rather than sitting in lecture halls. Class sizes are smaller, and professors have adjusted lesson plans to accommodate online structuring. Interaction with instructors and peers is different too, as many students have never seen their professors or classmates in person.

Because of fewer hands-on learning opportunities and face-to-face discussions with peers, some people question whether college students are still receiving the quality of education that prepares them for life beyond college. This concern is not completely baseless. It’s hard to stay engaged while learning online, and it seems impossible to make up for in-person versions of certain classes, such as lab sciences or discussion-based seminars.

However, I believe this semester’s graduates are just as set up for success as graduates from previous years. While they have faced many challenges, they are equipped with life experiences and perspectives unique to the classes of 2020 and 2021 that will help them in their next endeavors, whatever they may be.

Everyone has made adjustments to their daily routine, including working parents, essential workers, senior citizens and everyone in between. However, students have displayed an incredible amount of adaptability.

Making a sudden change from an in-person, immersive learning experience to one that keeps us at home and unable to avoid distractions is quite difficult. Students have to work much more diligently to stay on top of deadlines and exams because the monotony of sitting behind a desk all day makes it easier to lose track of responsibilities.

Many find it hard to pay attention in lectures through a computer screen, and with online learning comes a variety of challenges for those students who struggle to stay motivated on their own.

Furthermore, it’s no secret that mental health conditions and stress have been skyrocketing since the onset of the pandemic. Anxiety about passing the novel coronavirus to at-risk family members or roommates is common, and many are dealing with depression due to loss or the inability to see friends.

Despite these challenges, students everywhere have been working tirelessly to maintain their educational endeavors.

We have always had to combat mental health struggles while in school, but the pandemic has complicated preexisting issues. Moreover, it is now more difficult for students to do things they enjoy and see people they love. Passing classes while juggling mental health conditions is an incredible example of adaptability, and now more than ever, students are finding themselves balancing the two.

On a less abstract level, students have also become somewhat proficient with computers, and everyone had to act as their own IT expert when technology was not on their side. While frustrating, dealing with computer issues means students have more practice with troubleshooting, which is a useful skill in a world with technology everywhere we turn.

There is also the fact that students had to learn to use different computer programs. It would be difficult to find a NAU attendee who doesn’t know how to use Zoom. Many classes also require students to use software such as Blackboard Collaborate or TopHat.

Attending school in the era of COVID-19 also means learning in one of the most politically-charged times the United States has seen. 

Issues like public health and racial injustice have never been hotter topics of conversation. Awareness of relevant global issues, regardless of political stance, is always a good attribute. It breeds civic engagement, which means more people participate in political processes like voting and organizing for causes they care about. Civic engagement is part of being a productive member of society.

Proper education on these issues is also a useful skill in the workplace — employers like workers who can think about the bigger picture.

It has been an extremely turbulent year for college students, especially those close to graduating. Graduates have been wondering what the world they are going into will look like. 

While I do not want to ignore the obvious setbacks and struggles this past year has brought, I don’t think it is fair to characterize this generation of students as doomed or set up for failure. 

This mindset ignores their demonstrated ability to persevere and the collective life experiences they gained. Adaptability is a rare trait, and there is an entire graduating class which has developed it over the past year. The graduates of the pandemic era deserve our confidence, not our doubts.