A College Senior and Coronavirus Walk into a Bar…

Kaela Thompson – Photo by Julia Bonavita

I am Kaela Thompson, a journalist and soon-to-be graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in Fort Myers with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Well, a virtual graduate. The COVID-19 pandemic has flipped the script on how things are “supposed” to happen. Here are some of my experiences as a graduating senior during these turbulent times.

As a college senior, my mind bounced around three things: landing my “big-girl job,” graduation, and securing a one-bedroom apartment.

I am a go-getter, so I landed my “big-girl job” as a production assistant at WINK-TV News in my first semester as a college senior. This is not the case for some members of the 2020 senior class. My fellow college students are entering a job market at a virtual standstill.

I am a “soon-to-be graduate,” because while my major and minor classes are completed, I still need to take university colloquium. My graduation date is Sunday, August 2, 2020, a date that cannot come soon enough. Every new day is a step closer to a future I am excited about.

I had gone through the seven stages of grief halfway through the shelter-in-place mandate when I realized graduation for the summer class of 2020 might be virtual. That realization hurt, but it put things into perspective for me.

My mother had been championing for my graduation since my acceptance to FGCU. My conversations with her all through college always ended or started with one question, “When do you graduate again?” When I told her about the possibility of there not even being a physical graduation, all she asked was, “They’re still going to the mail the diploma to the house, right?”

My list of the three worries had shrunk to one; however, the weight of it increased tenfold. The weight came from the encroaching onslaught of assignments — articles, interviews, and videotaped stories, also known as “packages” in the business.

Then came the worry of being responsible for all these tasks by myself, without the usual in-person contact with a teacher or resources on campus.

As the shutdowns forced everyone inside, the virtual world exploded into a flurry of online activity. Logging on to the popular cloud-based videoconferencing service, Zoom, and Canvas, the learning management program, became an everyday routine.

The FGCU journalism program initiated a new policy. Students had to cease all in-person reporting. We were told to hold interviews by phone or any other virtual medium. Recording video or “b-roll,” was at our own discretion. We were encouraged to utilize graphics or charts.

In the beginning, virtual learning was intimidating. There were times when the pressure of submitting projects shut down the motivation to do them. As an essential employee at the television studio, my free time flip-flopped. I found myself adding to my workload instead of cutting back.

I would work an eight-hour shift, and then go home and do homework until the early hours of the morning. Toward the end of the semester, I would witness sunrise while typing the final words of a paper.

Graduation was a big motivator for many students, including myself. With that not being a full option anymore, students had to dig deeper to find what would carry them to the end.

I finished this semester strong, by focusing on moving out of campus housing, and into my own apartment.

I am entering adulthood, and it feels scary and overwhelming -– especially now. But, in a round-about way, handling the COVID-19 pandemic, senior year, and being in isolation, fortunately has made me a stronger, more independent and capable adult. This experience has taught me to keep moving forward no matter the obstacles in your way.

Kaela Thompson is an active member of the Press Club of Southwest Florida. Disclaimer: FGCU has not confirmed or denied the possibility of a summer commencement ceremony.

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