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What felt like 100 Years of Solitude: How 2020 changed the outlook of graduate students

As society emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, people start to reflect on the past year and a half. Some people wrapped themselves at home as they binge-watch Netflix, Disney+, or HBO Max. Others served on the front lines in the health care, food, and agricultural and energy fields. For this post, I wanted to ask fellow graduate school students how 2020 changed their life path.

Jada Hester, University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media Journalism MA: Emotionally it’s been very confusing and draining not getting closure from undergrad. Missing graduation. Missing saying goodbye to my friends. I had to cancel events and activities I had planned during the last month or so of my senior year. I had to separate from my older family members. More practically, I had a three-week-long backpacking trip through Africa planned for summer 2020. I had been planning it for nearly two years and then didn’t get to go. I got a fantastic summer media fellowship in NYC and an internship with Sony last year-canceled. I’ve spent my first year of grad school at home.

Desia Bacon, University of Wisconsin at Madison PhD Student and NSF Graduate Research Fellow: My perspective hasn’t changed much throughout the pandemic, but rather it’s reinforced things I already believed. I think many people have realized several things that they would not have considered before.

1) The importance of boundaries and enforcing those boundaries for your well-being. People are so quick to skirt their boundaries or make exceptions. Working from home and living in a global health crisis has highlighted how much you have to enforce your boundaries in every area of your life for your physical health and mental health.

2) Who and what is essential, and the privilege it is to work from home. I’ve been a cashier, a barista, and a server; I know what it’s like, so I’ve always had immense respect for others in service positions, but I also recognize the privilege I have to not have work in one of those positions during a pandemic. I do not have to risk my safety for the sake of others and to pay my bills. I hope that other people’s perceptions of workers many previously considered having menial or less-than jobs have changed their perspective and recognize that it’s a privilege to work from home and rely on grocery delivery or takeout delivery. Someone else is risking their safety to help keep you safe, so tip them REALLY well, like above 20% if you have the funds to do so. 3) human connection exists outside of your office or happy hour with friends. Not seeing anyone in the past 14 months could be, and probably has been, for many, very isolating for people. I’ve found ways to connect with people despite not seeing them in person and even outside of FaceTiming with friends and family. I’ve connected with people via virtual zoom theatre (a quick plug for my friends at and Phoenix Tears Productions) as well as joining communities online based on common interests. We write each other letters and send little pick-me-up presents, we chat online and via video, and of course, we share little stories of humanity. The connection looks different at this time, but it’s out there.

Brandi Mitchell , University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media Strategic Communications MA: It made me realize how much I valued spending time with my friends and family and how I took for granted that closeness in physical proximity.

Thank you Jada, Desia, and Brandi for these thoughtful insights.

*edited for length and clarity

Me on my first day of graduate school

Rachel Huss

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