If you’re anything like me, you were looking forward to grad (and this whole summer) as a celebration of how much you had grown over the last few years.
I was a very different person when I came to UBC 5 years ago. I thought I knew more than I did—a common personality trait in 18-year-olds—and I underestimated how tough my degree would be.
A whole host of breakthroughs, setbacks, friendships, and experiences have made me into who I am today. To have that transformative growth culminate in 2 months of unexpected online learning and a virtual grad ceremony has felt anticlimactic to say the least.
It’s not that I was looking forward to the ceremony itself as the single most important event of my undergrad, but it has felt challenging to find the space and mental capacity to celebrate the accomplishment of obtaining a degree—what with everything happening in the world right now.
Grappling with the opposite of “normal”
We are graduating into a world that looks very different than it did 4 months ago.
Things we took for granted as being available to us upon graduation—a healthy job market, the ability to travel and see the world, and countless other experiences—aren’t available to us right now.
Figuring life out after graduation has never, I expect, been an easy feat, but for us—the class of 2020—we have to navigate what feels like an entirely new world on top of everything else.
In some ways, the past few months have seemed like a shared traumatic experience, but it’s been felt and experienced differently by each of us. It’s easy to say “we’re all in this together,” but when some people have lost loved ones, and others will emerge relatively unscathed, it’s obvious that COVID has not affected us all equally.
On top of that, only a few months after the pandemic shut down much of the world, George Floyd was murdered, and the world woke up. Many of us aren’t in the U.S. right now, but this moment has ignited a much-needed discussion about systemic racism in Canada and in other parts of the world as well.
At a time when the future already feels very much up in the air, and dependent on circumstances outside of our control (a forthcoming vaccine, for example, or the state of the world economy), our generation has grabbed onto this time of change with two hands: we’ve decided we want to see unjust systems that have been in place for decades purposefully dismantled, and built back from the ground up.
Creating a better “normal”
I spent a lot of time in university learning about massive changes and events that happened in the past, and that shaped the world in enduring ways. This world is again in flux, and history-defining events are happening at 5x speed, changing our world by the minute. This is scary and overwhelming—no denying that—but it’s also a huge opportunity for us all.
As new grads, it is our responsibility and privilege to take part in building a “new normal” for our future. Speaking personally, I have recently felt like I needed to wake up and become a more active participant in my life. I’ve become more aware of the fact that I can’t just hope for the best, and regard global challenges as outside of my control.
Sure, I’ve always cared about world issues and about politics—I read articles, I followed the news, I had conversations about topics with friends and family. That doesn’t seem like enough anymore. In this “new world,” it no longer feels like activism is just for the activists. We’re discovering that we now have to be “activists” ourselves, although that may look different for each person.
The world’s issues are our issues too. Passivity is no longer an option. Just the fact that it was an option for some of us in the past—myself included—exposes our varying levels of privilege. I’ve been doing my best to reflect on mine—I encourage you to do the same.
In university, I learned, above all else, that I don’t know enough.
Getting a degree was the first step: now, we have a responsibility to use our experiences, our critical thinking, our vast and varied skills and perspectives to make this world a better place.
Our knowledge journey does not end with a “degree conferred” status on the SSC. We are entering a world and a workforce that is begging for radical change. I think we can be that change. My education is just beginning, and so is yours.