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College grads in Oceanside, Island Park mourn lost experiences, face uncertain futures

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Oceanside and Island Park’s college graduates, like many across the globe, won’t get their moment to walk the stage, accept their diplomas and celebrate with family and friends this month as planned.

Though some formal graduation ceremonies have been rescheduled, most are still up in the air or moved to a virtual format. Some students, especially those who went away to study, didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to college classmates, roommates and friends. Now they enter the job market at a time when unemployment is at its highest point since the Great Depression.

T.J. Reichel, 22, of Island Park, would have been graduating from SUNY Cortland this weekend. He and his classmates were given an extra week of spring break in March, and eventually, were told not to return to school, as statewide school closures set in. Although he did return to his off-campus apartment in Cortland with his roommate, he did not go back to the campus itself, and most of his peers remained home.

“We didn't know going home for that spring break that we wouldn't go back,” he said. “There are friends in other states and towns that I may never get to say goodbye to.”

Reichel is receiving a bachelor’s degree in business economics and had hoped to find a job in financial advising after graduation. Now, his options are looking slimmer, he said, as many companies are not hiring due to the economic impact of the virus.

“It’s going to be difficult,” he said. “The jobs won’t be there. [Before the pandemic], it was looking like a good time to graduate, and now there's so many question marks.”

Alesia Allen, 21, of Oceanside, is feeling similar pains right now. She studied nursing at Hampton University in Virginia and now hopes to find a job at a children’s hospital. However, she’s having trouble finding a hospital looking for new nurses at this time.

“It’s pretty hard for new grad nurses to get a job with Covid going on,” she said. “You would think [hospitals] are hiring, but actually, they want experienced nurses, and they don't want to bring in outside people to interview because of the risk of transmission.”

Allen was completing her clinicals to graduate when she had to come home from school in March. Therefore, she had to complete them online through a simulation program, a much different experience than getting the real, hands-on experience.

Allen also had to adjust greatly, from the busy, flourishing days of college life, where she was in a nursing sorority and other clubs, to staying at home and completing schoolwork alone.

“I don't feel productive, I feel very stagnant right now,” she said. “I know people that graduate experience this normally, but it’s even harder for the class of 2020. We can't even go outside to see friends through all of it.”

As for celebrating her accomplishments, her school has postponed its graduation ceremony until September. “It won’t be the same kind of feeling when you take that last final and your family comes down to celebrate, and you know that graduation is in a week,” she said. “By September, that feeling has worn off and some people will already have jobs. I am grateful that I’ll have one, though.”

Danielle Iadevaio, 22, of Oceanside, a psychology major at Towson University in Maryland, was supposed to graduate on May 21. Her school may also hold a ceremony for the class of 2020 in the fall, but nothing is for certain.

“From a rational point of view, we understand why we can't have this in-person ceremony — better safe than sorry,” Iadevaio said. “But from an emotional standpoint, this was supposed to be a celebratory time and to have to sit on your couch during these last few weeks, which were supposed to be some of the best times of our lives, and now we're stuck in the house … We’re allowed to be upset about that.”

Iadevaio shares similar worries of finding a job and laments over the final semester cut short. She would like to work with children dealing with trauma. Before the pandemic hit, she had her own clients through a case management program at Towson. She was not able to continue the program when she went home or say goodbye to her clients, she said.

“I built a relationship with them, and they needed my help,” she said. “Not being able to finish off strong with them still upsets me.”

Iadevaio wants the class of 2020 to know that their emotions about the unexpected turn to the semester are valid. While she knows the bigger problems at large are more pressing, she says that “doesn’t take away” from the experiences she and others have lost. Any invalidation can make those emotions worsen, she added.

“We deserve to feel proud of ourselves,” she said. “We’ve accomplished so much in these last four years, and we still deserve to be proud and find a way to celebrate ourselves.”