The excitement of graduating can become muddled by post-grad anxieties about what comes next. This spring, the class of 2021 will be graduating into a world slightly more uncertain than usual.
The mental health struggles associated with graduating were very real for many seniors.
Debra Cox-Howard, supervisor of Administrative Operations and outreach faculty advisor for Counseling and Psych Services said that during this time, many students reach out to CAPS for support with post-grad anxiety.
"Graduation can bring up feelings of excitement, pride and anticipation, but also feelings of loss, discouragement, worry, fear and depression. During their time in an academic setting, students have had and experienced feelings of certainty. With graduation, they do not necessarily have those same feelings," Cox-Howard said.
Yasmin Acosta, a senior graduating fall 2021 with a double major in French and journalism described her thought process.
“It comes in waves. Sometimes I think ‘oh I’m going to graduate soon, my life is about to change’ and other times I just don’t think about it,” Acosta said.
Acosta’s plan to move to France after graduation has been a bit thrown off by the pandemic. She was unsure what the travel restrictions are going to look like and the uncertainty of today has made the already difficult move much more daunting.
“Moving to a different country during this time, even though there’s a good reason why I’m doing it, it does feel a little stressful because I don’t know what the job opportunities are going to be like with the pandemic, and also being a foreigner,” Acosta said.
Francisco Romero, a graduating senior majoring in general studies with an emphasis in art and entertainment, also expressed dismay at graduating during the pandemic.
“It’s a little bit of a bummer, to be honest,” Romero said. “I’m happy to finally graduate, it just isn’t the way that I thought it was going to be.”
For Romero, the path to graduation has taken six years and has been full of much strife.
“In my journey to graduation, I’ve had a lot of bad paths I took. As a young child, these are things we learn; like hanging out with the wrong group, wasting time or getting in your own way. Little things like that. Every decision matters and I think the earlier we learn this the better," Romero said. "So now, having gone through some bad paths, I’m looking to only go down positive paths. I’m hoping that through the experience that I’ve gained that I can find those right paths and avoid the bad ones.”
Romero said that the anxieties associated with choosing the next step in his life were further complicated by family.
“I get anxious because there’s so much pressure from the outside world. There are parents, there are siblings looking at me as an example, so my moves do matter and affect others. It’s not just me, it’s the people that will be affected by what I decide,” Romero said.
Cox-Howard gave some background on some of the most frequent concerns seniors like Romero experienced near graduation.
“One of the most frequent struggles that students that are on the brink of graduation have expressed is a feeling of failure if they have been unable to find work in their area of study in a reasonable length of time,” Cox-Howard said.
Acosta shared her own doubts about finding work after graduation.
“Even though I love what I’ve been studying, I’ve also been able to work in the field and realize how time-consuming and challenging the work can be. So I’ve realized that maybe it might not be exactly what I want to do right after I graduate. That is something that I think about; I worry about finding a job that I’m happy with immediately after graduation,” Acosta said.
In choosing a career path after college, there is often a struggle between passion and stability. Romero explained his own concerns about his career path after college.
“It’s either do I go with the risk or do I go the safe route? And I’ve heard both sides of the story; you can risk it and fail in doing something you love, or you can fail in doing something that you don’t love,” Romero said.
Cox-Howard gave advice to seniors struggling with post-graduation anxieties.
“Allow yourself to take a deep breath and think about all that you have accomplished. Don't compare yourself to others. Stay focused on the present. Take care of your mind, body and spirit. Take time out for yourself,” Cox-Howard said.
Although Acosta expressed her concerns about graduating, she said she was still hopeful for her future.
“I think graduation is a very beautiful experience. I feel like that in itself is a huge accomplishment. I think that life after that, even though we think that life is supposed to be this narrow path, sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. Even if I’m studying journalism and French, other doors can open in the future so I’m excited for whatever’s up ahead,” Acosta said.
Romero also had a more hopeful message to his fellow seniors despite his concerns.
“It gets really stressful, and there’s pressure from different angles everywhere, but don’t let it get to you. Just rock on, kick ass and take the world; it's yours,” Romero said.
If you are struggling with your mental health during this graduation period, be sure to check out the CAPS resources available at health.arizona.edu/counseling-psych-services.
Follow Tia Stephens on Twitter