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How 'Class of COVID-19' is coping with loss of traditional college graduation ceremony

Students across the country deal with the reality of losing the normal ceremony that celebrates their accomplishments and hard work.

As many as 2.9 million college seniors are expected to graduate into the worst U.S. job market in over a decade. 

In 2020 so far, 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment and 1 million have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The students entering this very different world are known as the “Class of COVID-19.”

“It’s hard to transition into this next part of life without a kind of chapter finale or ending,” Skylar Nicholson said. 

Nicholson will be graduating from the University of Georgia with journalism and political science degrees.

For her and her fellow classmates, the final semester of college has not gone as expected. Students all over the country had to leave campus to finish up the school year online. Soon after, graduations ceremonies would be canceled or postponed because of the pandemic.

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Credit: WXIA

“It’s definitely not what I had envisioned or dreamed that your last semester of college is going to be, all those last memories and last experiences,” Nicholson said.

The list of institutions facing pressure from student groups to compensate tuition continues to grow. Students said part of these requests result from the lack of support they feel they're getting from online classes.

“It’s been difficult, there are definitely some parts of the learning experience that are lost without the classroom,” said Rex Bone, a Georgetown University computer science and creative writing major.

Suspending in-person instruction has left vulnerable students to take on learning the material, housing, food, and employment - sometimes on their own.

“It’s been a huge adjustment for me, I’ve actually been struggling a bit mentally,” Aura Wetzel from Montana State University said.

Jack Hirsh and Adam Michalesko are set to graduate from Penn State this spring and, just like millions of other recent grads, they are still looking for a job.

“It seems most companies are on a hiring freeze right now, and that’s been really really difficult,” said Hirsh.

RELATED: Stocks drop as coronavirus crunches the job market, economy

Credit: WXIA

The two have applied to multiple jobs but have not had any luck.

“Job searching is obviously terrible. You can still send stuff out but nobody’s focusing on that right now,” said Michalesko.

As an early childhood education master student, Margaret Ann Bryan is worried she will have to accept a job at an unfamiliar school.

“I will be interviewing online through Zoom,” said Bryan, “I could potentially and probably will be agreeing to work at a campus I’ve never set foot on. It’s really intimidating.”

For the class of 2020, not getting the usual “Pomp and Circumstance” production is a harsh reality.

“It sucks. It sucks there’s really nothing to say besides that, a major let down,” said Alexandria Rubin from the University of Florida.

College commencement is a highly anticipated day for many.

“You grow up and hear, ‘Go to college and get that degree and you’re going to be on the stage hearing your name called in front of everybody showing your parents you made it.’ And that was kind of taken away,” said Michalesko.

RELATED: School shows up to surprise Stockbridge High School Valedictorian

To honor graduates, schools are offering online commencement options.

“I was one of several thousand students to sign a petition asking the university to not do a virtual graduation ceremony,” said Bone.

Some students would rather wait until it is safe to gather in groups, than have their graduation canceled.

“Even next year, if they want to push it that far, I want to do that, I think I deserve to do that,” said Hirsh.

However, whether caps and gowns are worn behind a screen or with fellows graduates on a football field, the class of 2020 plans to make its mark in history.

“You’re not forgotten, your graduation matters, your accomplishments matter,” said Bryan.

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