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Grad 2021 Perspectives: College and University

In part one of our two-part Grad Week series, we share the experiences and perspectives of four Toronto students who are completing their college and university degrees during the pandemic.

In part one of our Grad Week series, four College and University grads share their Covid graduation experience

(CBC Toronto)

With grad week taking place throughout the month of June, we connected with students anticipating graduating from college, university, as well as high school. This week in our two part series, we share the experiences and perspectives of four Toronto students who are completing their college and university degrees. Here, they share their experiences, perspectives on college and university life during COVID-19, and also reveal what they have planned after graduating. 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Agnes T., Humber College, Multimedia Design

Agnes is graduating from Humber College’s Multimedia Design program (CBC Toronto)

Your graduating year of college is probably very different than you may have imagined. Could you explain what you imagined it would be, versus what it really was like?

Yeah! All through my years of pursuing education, I've always had a low-key graduation experience, so when I enrolled in the Multimedia Design Course at Humber College I was super excited to finally have the chance to attend a huge convocation event. Since everything is online now, that isn't happening.  I remember on my last day of class, my Program Coordinator  was making a small online goodbye event for us. Although, it can't really replace the euphoric feeling of a real and offline "last day of class", I still think that a virtual last day event was really sweet and memorable for me.

Would you like to share one achievement or accomplishment that you are proud of this year? This can be academic or non-academic.

During my second to last semester at Humber, I was stuck in my home country in Indonesia because of all the travel restrictions. The initial plan was for me to go home to Indonesia during my summer break, plan my wedding that would happen in December 2020 and then fly back to Canada for the Fall 2020 semester. As we all know, the pandemic said no to all of that. I ended up having to do the online classes from Indonesia, which has a 12-13 hour time difference from Toronto. So from September to December, I remember having to attend classes and prepare for my internship search during the night, while working on assignments and planning my wedding during the day. It was quite a semester, and now that I think about it, I honestly don't know how I did all of that. I ended up having a beautiful wedding, scoring an internship placement with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, while also making it to the Dean's List. I'm still really happy about all that, but I definitely will not repeat that life dynamic though.

What are your convocation plans, and how do you plan to mark this milestone?

I genuinely still have no solid plans or ideas on how to celebrate this milestone in the best and safest way. I and a couple of my Indonesian friends, who graduated this year, were planning to do some sort of graduation photoshoot to mark this milestone, but we haven't booked anything yet. Also, once Toronto starts opening up a little more in the near future, I'm hoping to be able to hang-out and celebrate our graduation with some of my classmates again.

With almost half of your college experience taking place during the pandemic, could you share how this experience has framed your outlook on your career path or post-graduate aspirations? Did you change majors? Or are you rethinking your career direction?

Before the pandemic, I always thought that I was a horrible online learner. I thought that any work that requires collaboration will not be as good and effective if it's done online. However, I believe that my college and work pandemic experience have really changed my outlook on that. I'm actually loving the idea of remote work now. I feel very lucky that the career path that I chose is extremely remote friendly. I think my pandemic experience has convinced me that I have chosen the right career path for my future.

Niya A., Ryerson University, Commerce in Business Technology Management 

Niya is graduating from Ryerson University with a degree in Commerce in Business Technology Management (CBC Toronto)

Your graduating year of university is probably very different than you may have imagined. Could you explain what you imagined it would be, versus what it really was like?

I expected to get closure. Studying at Ryerson has left me with great memories and lessons that I'll cherish for a lifetime. I expected to have a chance to extend my gratitude to the physical space that includes the hallways, hangout spots and my favourite cafes. The pandemic didn't give me a chance to do so as I never expected the last day that I spent on campus to be the very last time I spent on campus, period. Thankfully, I've been able to keep in touch with classmates and Professors through the virtual realm but it still feels very bittersweet.

Would you like to share one achievement or accomplishment that you are proud of this year? This can be academic or non-academic

I started making films and founded a media page called Habasooda. Habasooda is a page dedicated to sharing the richness of the Muslim experience through a variety of storytelling avenues. Through Habasooda, I've made films like "By the Train '' which premiered at the Regent Park Film Festival, the Screening Scholarship Media Festival and will be at the  Breakthroughs Film Festival. My short documentary titled "Tie your camel (and trust in God)" will also be premiering very soon, which came into existence through the support of the Ryerson Creators Grant. Habasooda has become a great community space and has fostered much needed conversations about what it means to be Muslim in the 21st century. 

What are your convocation plans, and how do you plan to mark this milestone?

I had my first graduation celebration party on June 10. The Ryerson Black Excellence committee organized a beautiful event for all Black Ryerson graduates. We wore our Kente stole (provided by the committee), listened to amazing speakers and broke it down on the virtual dance floor. My family and friends tuned in on zoom, my mom decorated my room, my brother and sister ordered takeout and we made the most of it. I have my second convocation in the next 2 weeks and it'll probably be the same! Ryerson has sent us mini grad packages with grad socks, graduation caps and other mini gifts to mark the occasion!   

With almost half of your college/university experience taking place during the pandemic, could you share how this experience has framed your outlook on your career path or post-graduate aspirations? Did you change majors? Or are you rethinking your career direction?

Working and going to school online has truly been a blessing in disguise as it has completely shattered my commute time and has left me with some free time to explore my creativity. I'm still very much a Tech-Enthusiast and have begun working full time as a Senior Statistical Data Analyst though I would say the pandemic has given me an opportunity to focus on my craft and I hope to continue creating labours of love. 

Geanie L., Ryerson University, Creative Industries 

Geanie is graduating from Ryerson University’s Creative Industries program (CBC Toronto)

Your graduating year of university is probably very different than you may have imagined. Could you explain what you imagined it would be, versus what it really was like?

On a day to day, I would be bumping shoulders on the TTC during rush hour, hearing the hustle and bustle of the Yonge-Dundas area, attending school-related events and workshops in person. Basically doing everything, yet being distracted by the external "noise". Of course, things took a turn with the pandemic and instead, I slowed down and made time for self-reflection through therapy, meditation, reading, journaling, gardening, exercising and art. I'm truly grateful to be healthy, to feel safe, and to be supported by my loved ones. All of this has transformed my life for the better as I've gained new skills and perspectives that I'm going to put into my tool-belt moving forward. 

Would you like to share one achievement or accomplishment that you are proud of this year? This can be academic or non-academic.

My friends and I created ENS, a media house and social platform for Asian-identifying creatives in Toronto. The project was conceived during our undergrad and I'm proud of how far we've grown since trying to fundraise and market our showcase. We collaborated with three other local art collectives this past summer for BIPOC Fest and recently launched a radio show in collaboration with CJRU 1280 called Yellow is a Primary Colour. I like to believe what I'm doing is fulfilling one of my life's purposes – to help people in our community by educating them on important issues beyond their social bubble, lending a voice for those who are disadvantaged, and providing a safe space for everyone to express themselves. 

What are your convocation plans, and how do you plan to mark this milestone?

I chose to opt out of virtual convocation. I made that decision because I thought graduating on a Zoom call is somewhat anticlimactic. I also know that Ryerson will honour their 2020+ graduates who haven't walked down the aisle for an in-person convocation at a later date. I very much look forward to that! Otherwise, I'll Facetime my family in Germany, hang out with my friends, put on a cute dress, take photos with my degree, and maybe get some takeout. 

With almost half of your university experience taking place during the pandemic, could you share how this experience has framed your outlook on your career path or post-graduate aspirations? Did you change majors? Or are you rethinking your career direction?

Initially, I wanted to pursue higher education because a part of me felt like I wasn't finished with school yet. Though I can't say that I love school, I do love learning, especially learning things that I'm passionate about. It's why my program (Creative Industries) was appealing to me because I got to choose two different creative streams to major in: Media Business and Print-Publishing. I was interested in having the lifestyle of a "Digital Nomad" and thought long and hard about pivoting towards UX/UI Design. However, through this limbo state, I found that I prefer stability.

Currently, I'm leaning towards becoming a content creator because it's what I did during my remote internship. The best is yet to come! At this point in my life, I just want to gain more paid work experience. Along with that, I want to take on self-paced learning through online resources that will teach me to become consistently disciplined. I'm on a mission to learn and unlearn my inherent beliefs, the social norms, and to dismantle our systems of labour, racism, art and just everything else that I've been conditioned to internalize and accept. My goal in doing so is to connect to the world outside of my own home, and everything else that I may not fully understand right now. 

Cyrus Man, Ryerson University, Creative Industries

Cyrus is graduating from Ryerson University’s Creative Industries program (CBC Toronto)

Your graduating year of 2021 (college/uni) is probably very different than you may have imagined. Could you explain what you imagined it would be, versus what it really was like?

When I was in my second year of university, I remember already talking with my closest university friends about being excited to finish university. My friends and I talked about the last day of school when we would complete our final exams together and then celebrate by letting loose at a nearby bar. We imagined ourselves gracefully strutting across the stage in our graduation gown to receive our hard-earned diplomas. Fast forward to this year, everything was different and will be different in how my undergrad chapter is coming to an end. When I handed in my last assignment on my official last day of university, it felt like any other mundane "working from home" kind of day. I did not have a rush of excitement or celebration in my mind, just a sigh of relief. I didn't FaceTime my friends right away either just because they didn't finish the same day as I did and besides, the energy celebrating over a video call is different from online. Even though there will not be an in-person graduation this year, I am still looking forward to the second virtual convocation for Ryerson University's FCAD department. 

Would you like to share one achievement or accomplishment that you are proud of this year? This can be academic or non-academic

Firstly, everyone graduating this year should be very proud of themselves because that is an accomplishment in and of itself! An academic accomplishment that I am proud of achieving is making it on the Dean's List and graduating with the extra two words of "With Distinction" on my diploma. Grades are not everything, and I know they are not. But with the pandemic going on, there was nothing else to focus my attention towards other than school. I was also intrinsically motivated to finish my final year strong in honour of my grandmother, who passed last year. It will be hard celebrating without her, but I wanted to make her proud as her last grandchild graduating from university.  

What are your convocation plans, and how do you plan to mark this milestone?

My convocation is planned for June 23. As of right now, I'm just taking it day-by-day. I have no big plans for that day at the moment with friends or family, but maybe that will change as restrictions start to loosen. A group FaceTime call with my closest friends in our gowns afterward would be nice, but a socially distanced wine night would further elevate the day if that is possible. I always wanted to go on a grad trip with friends to an exotic location, so that will eventually happen, just not this year. Extravagant celebrations to mark this milestone can wait until the pandemic is over.

With almost half of your college/university experience taking place during the pandemic, could you share how this experience has framed your outlook on your career path or post-graduate aspirations? Did you change majors? Or are you rethinking your career direction?

No, I did not change majors, nor am I rethinking my career direction. But that is not to say that the pandemic did not affect my original projected post-graduate aspirations. During the summer of my third year, in summer 2020, I needed to complete an internship at a creative organization. But with the creative sector (music, fashion, advertising agencies) being massively affected by the lockdowns, internship positions became scarce and competitive. I did not get an internship for the summer and took a summer course instead to lighten the course load in my final year. That said, I continued to apply for internship positions over the summer and was lucky to land one for the Fall term. Working remotely requires a whole other skill set. But not being able to experience the internship extensively in-person in the creative setting is a major factor I would say in determining my post-graduate trajectory. Working in a creative environment with a team just makes the learning experience more enriching. Networking is valuable in the creative industries, but it has been more difficult to form new connections and maintain relationships. The efficacy of online events available this past year just isn't the same. As I am prepared to graduate in the coming weeks, I find myself in contention, a rut. I am ready to and want to work but I don't feel a sense of accomplishment or readiness yet to enter a creative career just because of the different circumstances the pandemic has brought. 

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