By Alona Williams
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Graduating during a pandemic was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I could have never guessed would be my reality. After four years, (and a gap year) I was finally at the finish line.
But about a month shy of finals, campuses closed and graduation turned into a slideshow. My family did not gather. I had no time to really revel in my accomplishment. I even endured a little of what thousands of college students are enduring right now–online university. The future is already uncertain, and we are taught that getting a higher education will steady that vision. We all know this isn’t the reality for many people.
The pandemic has made life altogether uncertain, much less the prospects of starting a “career.”
With a new year, and new president in our midst, the future of the college to career pipeline is dwindling away. One of Biden’s campaign promises was to forgive student loan debt up to $50,000. This has now become $10,000. The future of college institutions and the job market itself is transforming rapidly.
We now call minimum wage workers “essential”, affirming what many of us have already known to be true. When things hit the fan, we need food, we need education, we need housing for everyone, and a livable wage to sustain all of these things. Covid has exacerbated our already challenging job market, and has rebranded the same people who we refuse to pay $15 dollars an hour, as “heroes”. But if they are essential and are risking their lives to barely pay their bills, then what exactly does that say about how we value the people we need the most?
Right now, everyone is thinking very hard about what is needed and what can be cut loose. We’ve learned that it is almost always the “who” and seldomly the “what.” If you’re qualified for a job that’s great, but not necessarily enough. Oftentimes, it’s been proven that having a strong professional network can be more beneficial than a 4-year degree.Relationships are at the forefront of everything right now. Our individualist society is being shown how unsustainable it is, mentally, politically, environmentally, and impacts our resources the most.
So what does that mean for poor people? Poor college students, and alumni?
It means that a lot of people with student loan debt being pushed into a workforce that’s fragile structure is finally giving-away. Graduates are forced to decide between paying bills, paying debt, and putting enough effort into finding a job for their respective profession.
Right now things are competitive; the gaps are bigger. The internet seems to be the only tool that aids in helping recent undergrads find opportunities. If you don’t have a network, then you are in search of where you fit, and who you are as a professional. The internet not only allows us to curate our professional community and network, but it also allows for mutual aid. This is important because it is becoming clearer and clearer that the government is only willing to do but so much. The goal is to keep everyone working and motivated to work. Although the institutions are holding onto the old ways of professionalism, and general societal norms; things are changing rapidly.
As recent undergraduates, we have less power, and more power in different ways.
We must continue to balance 20 things on 2 arms, survive in a capitalist world, and yet we are punished for doing the thing that was supposed to protect us from instability. But we also are moving into a new way of living, where the possibilities are made up as we go. Seemingly having so many options and none at all can seem unfair, but there’s a wild card level of power in that. To all marginalized students and recent graduates of all levels, these institutions were never made for our stability. So it’s best we make our own rules, and take it one day at a time.