This was a pretty tough weekend for families with graduating seniors. To have graduation eclipsed by so much fear and risk is hard. And the question of what happens after graduation is weighing heavily on a lot of graduates’ minds. Stateside spoke to two women graduating in 2020 about what this season has been like for them.
Zaria Phillips is graduating from Michigan State University with a Bachelors of Arts in Journalism. She is also a former Michigan Radio newsroom intern. Phillips, her twin sister, and her younger sister were all set to graduate this past weekend before the COVID-19 outbreak canceled those plans. MSU’s online graduation ceremony isn’t until May 16, but Phillips still found a way to celebrate this past weekend.
“I ended up going to a friend’s backyard ceremony, kind of, with her roommates. She was getting her master’s degree, so she decided it would be a good idea to have a backyard walk,” Phillips said. “So her three other roommates and me and my sister, we went over there and we had our cap and gowns on. And we just filmed ourselves walking, and we had little fake paper diplomas.”
Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan is graduating from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts in English. UM had virtual graduation events this past weekend. She said despite the strange circumstances, it did feel like there was a school-wide celebration of the graduates.
“Specifically with the English Department, which I graduated from as a B.A. in English, they had all the seniors, graduating seniors, record a video, and they made a compilation of all of us in the video which was really great to see.”
Both Phillips and Nouhan are planning to pursue a career in journalism. While more people are paying attention to the news than they have in awhile, many newsrooms are under hiring freezes. Some are laying off or furloughing workers. Big industry events like the National Association of Black Journalists conference, which are often important opportunities for networking and recruitment, have been canceled.
“It’s just me sending out a lot of emails to news directors, etc., trying to figure out what my next step is going to be,” Phillips said of her job search. “I’m trying to not think too much about the future because it’s causing a lot of anxiety right now, as I think it does for a lot of people. But at the same time, it offers a bit of solace to know that I’m not the only one going through this because a lot of my classmates, they don’t have jobs either, and they’re like ‘This isn’t a normal time.’”
Nouhan said that she has been looking for freelancing opportunities, but those are also difficult to come by right now. In terms of looking for positions outside of journalism, she said the prospects aren’t much better.
“A lot of the jobs that are available outside of the field that I’ve been working in are essential workers. And then you have to consider—do I want to put myself at risk right now?” Nouhan explained. “I’ve been able to stay healthy, thank God, for the time being, but if it really comes down to that, it will be a consideration of my health, and then my roommate’s health as well. It is a difficult decision to make.”
This article was written by Stateside production assistant Olive Scott.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misidentified one of the people in the first photo. The person in the middle is not Zaria Phillips' younger sister. She is fellow MSU student Nahndi Bellman. The error in the caption has been corrected above.