You’re graduating in a pandemic. What’s next?

Professor Denise Apodaca, middle, gives the commencement address to graduates during the graduation ceremony for the College of Liberal Arts in Moby Arena at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019.Csu Liberalartsgraduation3
Editor's note:

Amanda Sloat offers advice to young people graduating in a time of coronavirus. This piece was originally published by the Detroit Free Press.

Graduation is always an anxious time for young people on the threshold of the “real world,” but COVID-19 has created new uncertainties. For Generation Z, students’ final semesters are not exactly going as planned. Rather than celebrating with friends, many are worrying about finding a job while living in their childhood bedrooms. In recent years, I held career seminars for students across the country (with those tips published here). During this era of social distancing, I’ve moved these discussions online and adapted my advice.

Grieve. Recognize that you’ve experienced a loss: the abrupt end of classes, graduation rituals, and maybe opportunities for jobs or overseas study. Grief is a normal feeling, which you should express to family and friends. Seek professional help if needed; there are free resources.

Understand life’s unpredictability. Your career will be affected by countless unknown events, such as a sick parent or a partner with a great opportunity in a new city. Be prepared when opportunities arise; accept that sometimes your best effort won’t result in the desired outcome. Celebrate your own successes.

Practice empathy. Coronavirus is causing tremendous suffering for many people. It has also highlighted the disparities in our communities: those who can stock up on food and those who can’t; those who can work from home on computers and those who must show up at cash registers and warehouses. Social distancing provides time for social deepening.

First jobs aren’t forever. Yes, you need to earn money. But you may need to adjust your expectations. Your first job won’t determine your entire career, and it will likely comprise only a fraction of your working years. Internships can provide experience and a foot in the door. The US government, for instance, has an e-intern program. As some millennial jobseekers learned during the 2008 financial crisis, shorter term positions can help identify tasks you enjoy (or not) and may lead to unexpected professional opportunities.

Volunteer. As you’re job-hunting, see if you can carve out time to volunteer. Work can be done remotely, such as recording books for children, using language skills to help refugees, helping LGBTQ youth or those needing a friendly ear, assisting vision-impaired people, and using social media to support disaster relief by the Red Cross. You may discover a new interest.

Address current needs. The pandemic has demonstrated the necessity of medical professionals, including experts in public health, as well as other frontline workers.

Reconsider government service. COVID-19 has underscored the important role that government can play in people’s lives, especially in times of crisis. Dr. Anthony Fauci is seen as a national treasure. Foreign service officers helped stranded Americans return home safely. Members of Congress are assisting constituents and passing emergency legislation.

Be creative. COVID-19 is highlighting problems that entrepreneurial minds can solve. Airbnb, Pinterest, Square, Stripe, Uber, and Whatsapp were founded during the 2008 financial crisis. Many businesses have adapted, from yoga teachers offering online classes to restaurants providing take-out. Students are making money by tutoring, walking dogs, or helping neighbors with errands.

Focus on the present. It is impossible to know how long cities will be locked down, what the economy will look like when we emerge, or what opportunities will be available. Your worries will also change from day to day. My psychologist father always told me to place as few conditions as possible on my happiness, which may be the best advice anyone can offer right now. Focus on what you can control; let go of what you cannot.