By Nicolette Chua, Associate Editor
At present, it is hard to re-imagine how the world was like before the COVID-19 crisis. No single day has gone by without news of the pandemic inundating headlines and news feeds. For students graduating this year, this uncertainty is amplified in both their professional and personal lives.
The Convergence spoke to 8 graduates who shared how the COVID-19 situation has impacted them personally, what they have been up to during the Circuit Breaker, and how they have been adapting to the current situation.
Disruptions to graduation plans
Students have faced an unprecedented disruption to their immediate plans upon graduation. For instance, those who were looking forward to graduation trips with their families and loved ones have now found themselves putting their travel plans on hold.
Commencement ceremonies — arguably the most significant milestone of students’ academic journeys — have also been postponed until further notice. However, students were relieved to know that their graduation ceremonies would neither be cancelled nor held online, such as those of polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).
Ms Jayley Low, 23, a Communications and New Media graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS) commented, “I really appreciate [this move]. We’re all making adjustments to the changes COVID-19 has dealt us in our lives. Learning to accept it and doing whatever we can to adapt to the situation is commendable enough.”
This view is seconded by Ms Cheah Cayyin, 23, an NUS Sociology graduate, “Being the first amongst my extended family to graduate from university, seeing me do so would mean a lot to them!”
Fresh graduates, fresh anxieties
Graduates whom The Convergence spoke to unanimously agreed that their existing concerns about entering the workforce are compounded by new sets of considerations, especially when graduating at such an inopportune period.
Unsurprisingly, the bulk of graduates’ concerns pertained to their job search and career prospects. One of such individuals is Singapore Management University (SMU) Business graduate Ms Shanice Lee. While the 23 year old was initially excited to look for her first full-time job post-graduation, she now finds the uncertainty of the entire situation “daunting”.
She said, “It's something that I try not to think about, because I have come to understand that to a large extent it is not within my control. The best strategy that I have at the moment is to just wait it out, and hope that as companies restructure and resume operations, that they will also look to hire again.”
This view is echoed by 25 year old NUS Quantitative Finance graduate Mr Ivan Lieu, “My concerns are definitely finding a suitable job (or even finding one in the first place), the remuneration I would get and how it’s going to impact my career progression in the future.”
Some interviewees were also pessimistic about global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. An NUS Political Science graduate, who wishes to remain anonymous, revealed that his main concerns pertained to the progress of economic recovery and wage suppression.
“Just like the various news articles I’ve read about graduates in recession years losing out in their careers, there is a possibility that I might be earning much less than my peers due to the economic downturn,” he acknowledged.
“Adulting” in an age of COVID-19
Beyond professional aspirations, the uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation has bled into graduates’ personal lives. Intertwined with COVID-19-related anxieties are also concerns about learning how to “adult” while balancing their existing commitments and personal aspirations.
Graduates cited financial literacy and financial independence as some of their top concerns in their transition to the workforce. 22 year old NUS Psychology graduate Ms Oh Hui Ling said, “One worry is that I am unsure of how to manage my finances and better plan my earnings in the future, such as taxes and insurance.”
Likewise, Ms Low said, “Now that I’ve graduated, I do want to start being financially independent and stop relying on my parents.”
The graduates’ remarks closely mirror that of Singaporean millennials, who view money matters as the top source of stress in their lives — as revealed in a 2019 global survey by investment management firm Blackrock.
Low further recognised that the job-hunting season “already takes a mental and emotional toll on graduates generally” but the COVID-19 situation has “exacerbated this pressure.”
Citing the trade-offs between securing financial independence early and finding a job that is ideally “purposeful and meaningful” to her, she added, “A part of me is worried about being unemployed but another part of me worries that I will settle because there are bills to pay.”
Adapting to the “new normal”
Moving on to a lighter note, students shared the creative ways in which they have been making the most out of their post-graduation life and adapting to the “new normal” of COVID-19.
Interviewees like Ms Lee and Ms Oh have embarked on personal projects during the two-month Circuit Breaker period established by the Government. “I aim to complete at least ‘one project’ a day, such as trying out a baking recipe, doing housework, exercising or running errands like grocery shopping. This has helped me feel that my day has been productive,” Lee said.
As for Ms Oh, she has recently joined the publicity team of a new voluntary initiative at Youth Corps Singapore (YCS), known as the Mental Health Cluster (MHC). MHC, which has recently started an Instagram page, aims to advocate for mental health awareness and reach out to Singaporean youths in this area.
Oh, who has been an avid volunteer with YCS throughout her university life, shared that curating publicity materials for the MHC initiative has been a source of joy and fulfilment for her.
“Now that I spend much more time at home, I have been looking out for online activities I can sign up for that will benefit MHC, such as webinars relating to mental wellness,” she said.
As for Mr Lieu and Ms Cheah, they have resolved to remain industry-relevant by signing up for online courses to upgrade their skill sets, such as through their school’s partnership with edX’s Remote Access Program (RAP).
Many interviewees have also found themselves appreciating the small joys in life, such as spending quality time with their families and friends and discovering newfound ways to love them better. Take Ms Cheah for instance — while she confessed that she used to “dread household chores,” she now realises, “It is quite therapeutic to keep [the house] clean while taking care of myself and my family.”
“I don't mean this to trivialise others’ problems, but I found that by nudging myself to look at things from a different perspective, perhaps certain issues are not as dreadful as I made it out to be,” Cheah said.
Reflections, ruminations, learning lessons
Many of the graduates whom The Convergence spoke to felt that the pandemic was a reminder for them to be grateful even in the face of adversity. Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Accountancy graduate Mr Evan James Teoh said, “An important lesson that I learnt is to be thankful for the small things that were previously taken for granted in normal times, such as having a roof over my head, food on the table, and a loving family.”
Graduates also admitted that the challenges presented in the COVID-19 outbreak have also catalysed a shift in their mindsets and outlook on life.
Ms Lee shared, “I've learnt not to be too hung up on the plans I've made, and to take things as they come. My future may be uncertain but with patience and self-discipline, I will continue to be hopeful.”
Similarly, 24 year old Mr Teoh felt that living through the COVID-19 crisis has taught him how to be better prepared for the next one. Moreover, he feels that the situation has helped him realise what was “truly essential” in his life.
“I have learnt how to re-centre my life on what is truly important and to cut away the things that I can live without,” he said.
The interviewees also said they have grown to become more attentive to the needs of the wider community. Ms Cheah said, ”I am thinking of more ways I can be of help to the situation right now, and to redirect the focus [to] being the right support for people in times of need.”
Ms Oh reflected that the COVID-19 crisis should not be the only time that Singaporeans recognise and appreciate its frontline workers. She strongly believes that Singaporeans can do more to display gratitude, such as through small acts of kindness. “It can be as easy as greeting your bus driver ‘good morning’, saying ‘thank you’ to the hawker and so on,” Oh said.
Ms Oh was also sensitive to how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the urgency of addressing social issues, like “socially-isolated elderly and foreign workers' living conditions, as well as ensuring these vulnerable groups receive timely information.”
The road ahead
While the future of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global economy remains uncertain, the Class of 2020 has proven that it can and has swiftly risen to the challenges that lie ahead.
As graduates are learning to embrace adaptability and tenacity like never before, their resilient spirits shine forth — as captured in the words of one of the interviewees, “The world is changing faster than it seems to be; A crisis like COVID-19 brings out both despair and opportunities, and I believe that as with previous global crises, it is possible to make a difference with what we have during this COVID-19 situation as long as we are willing to seize the opportunity given to us.”
Nicolette Chua is a final-year Political Science student and an Associate Commentary Editor for The Convergence. She firmly believes in the power of youths' voices in steering national conversations on social issues and seeks to marry this conviction with her love for writing and current affairs. In her free time, Nicolette can be found with a cup of Teh C in hand while keeping herself updated on dank memes.