Nova Scotia

Life after high school wasn't what they expected, but the grads of 2020 are all right

The grads of 2020 share a unique experience: their adult lives began in the midst of a global pandemic. CBC News caught up with some of them to see how their lives have changed in the last year.

CBC News caught up with some of them to see how and what they're doing

Young Nova Scotians reflect on first year of pandemic

6 months ago
6:49
CBC News asked the high school grads of 2020 how they've been coping during this very strange year. 6:49

Instead of being stuck in front of a screen for her first year of college, Bethany Welch was fishing for lobster off the coast of Brier Island, N.S.

The graduate of Islands Consolidated School in Freeport decided to defer her acceptance to the Nova Scotia Community College's oceans resources program after hearing about the struggles of online learning. 

But even though things haven't gone as planned, Welch is thankful for the pandemic detour. She learned a lot braving cold temperatures and rough seas as she banded lobster on a boat for two weeks in early December.

"It is hardcore. It's a lot more intense than I think people kind of realize it is," she said.

The high school grads of 2020 entered adulthood in the midst of a global pandemic. It's forced some of them to stay closer to home and find new ways to make friends, but despite the unique challenges, it's also shown them what they're capable of. 

Bethany Welch, who is from the village of Westport on Brier Island, always wanted to try lobster fishing and last December she got the chance. (Bethany Welch)

Last May, Welch embarked on a familiar rite of passage: moving out on her own for the first time. She now lives with her dog three houses away from her parents' home — "because that's like as far as you get away on the island."

"I've just learned how to be a lot more independent. I haven't called my mom for as much stuff as I might have at first. I've done good. I think she's pleased," she said with a chuckle.

Jeddore is a visual artist who created this piece using acrylic paint on paper. (Jolie Jeddore)

Jolie Jeddore, who is studying fine arts at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., is farther from home, and COVID-19 has made the distance feel even greater. 

Before the Atlantic Bubble burst last November, she was making trips home to Eskasoni First Nation in Cape Breton every couple of weeks.

Then cases in New Brunswick began to spike.

"Once the border closed I was stuck here," Jeddore said during a recent interview from her dorm room. "So I had to spend like my week off just here, and Easter's coming up so I don't really see myself going home anytime soon."

She gets a text from her family every morning and is looking forward to reuniting when the semester ends — or sooner if premiers in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick reopen the border as they've signalled they might do. 

Jeddore is doing a mix of online and in-person classes. Instead of attending first-year parties, she's having movie nights over Zoom and getting to know new friends through group chat.

For her, the hardest part about university life during a pandemic has been losing the one-on-one interactions with professors. "Now it's just we're barricaded by a screen, and I can't have those interactions with my professors as much," she said.

'Something to be optimistic about'

Still, Jeddore said she's surprised herself because she didn't think she'd be able to handle being away from home for this long.

"It's kind of cool that we managed to still go to university despite this global pandemic," she said. "That's something to be optimistic about." 

Braden Gray from Truro, N.S., shares that optimism, even if his first year of university isn't what he imagined. 

It's kind of cool that we managed to still go to university despite this global pandemic.- Jolie Jeddore, Mount Allison University 

The Dalhousie University student moved to Halifax last fall because he wanted the on-campus experience despite all of his classes being online. 

"I thought everything was going to be more relaxed, but it's a lot stricter. You don't realize that there's hundreds of people that are still actually on campus," said Gray, who's studying recreation management.

He's a sprinter on Dalhousie's track and field team who has learned to roll with the punches each time restrictions tighten, and then loosen, and then tighten again.

Braden Gray is a member of Dalhousie University's track and field team. (Braden Gray)

"Every time we have a meet scheduled, the numbers go up that weekend, I swear to God," he said. "It does suck because you put in a lot of effort … The next day at practice or the day after, it's a little sombre because you know that a lot of people are working hard."

He also hasn't met many of his Dalhousie Tigers teammates who aren't sprinters because they can't all gather together.

For the grads of 2020, their high school experience was derailed so abruptly that they didn't really have time to cherish their Grade 12 year. Gray's advice to this year's graduates is to embrace those moments while they can.

"Just do what makes you happy, I guess. Especially with COVID, you don't know when your school is going to close or if it's going to close," he said. 

Missing out on university experiences 

Emma MacPhee dreamed of moving away from home for the first time and attending university in Halifax. Instead, the Mount Saint Vincent student is trying her best to stay motivated as she embarks on a bachelor of science degree from her bedroom-turned-classroom in Sydney, N.S.

MacPhee said she's getting good grades in the five courses she's taking, but "there is a lot that I'm missing out on."

Emma MacPhee spent her first year of university doing online coursework from her home in Cape Breton and hopes to move to Halifax this fall. (Emma MacPhee)

"That's a huge part of school that I enjoy is reaching out to my professors, talking to new people, new classmates. I feel as though I'm very alone in my journey, and so that's a huge adjustment," she said.

Her bedroom used to be the refuge where she could relax after a busy day of high school. Now, it's the place she's eager to escape after spending hours doing online coursework at her desk.

Even so, MacPhee is choosing to see the positive. She's gotten closer with her family, her dog is overjoyed that she's home all day, every day, and she's developed the ability to succeed in online learning. 

"We're doing it all completely different ... no one is telling us the right way, the wrong way," she said. "So I think there's still a lot of optimism because you look at what you've achieved, and what you're able to do now and what you've done on your own."

This is what Welch found one morning when she was lobster fishing. Still, she says 'it was a good boat to be on.' (Bethany Welch)

For Welch, her couple weeks working with a seasoned lobster crew offered similar insight. On her last trip on the boat she woke up from a nap to a thick blanket of ice covering the entire front of the vessel.

Suddenly, online school didn't seem quite as daunting. 

"I've definitely changed in that way," she said. "It's been like trying to stay optimistic through everything, that school is going to work out whether it's in class that I have to move or whether it's online."

"I've kind of got the mindset now that everything happens for a reason."

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