With an ongoing pandemic looking down on the world, the university experience has only been made more difficult. The sudden shift from in-person to online classes had a severe impact on many people, especially graduating students. Although proud and happy with their accomplishments, many graduates are still processing the circumstances of the end of their time at UTM.

The leap from graduation to the real world, which is already known to be an immense leap, has only proven to be more competitive with so many graduates seeking employment. The Medium had the opportunity to congratulate and discuss these circumstances with a few students in UTM’s fall class of 2020.

Zeahaa Rehman, Linguistics and Professional Writing and Communication (PWC)

            Coming into UTM, Zeahaa Rehman knew she would be pursuing professional writing and communications, but during her first year, she grew to love linguistics as well. One of her favourite courses during her undergrad was LIN256: Sociolinguistics. Rehman explains that “language is such a huge part of our daily lives, and it was interesting to understand how it works to modify one’s identity.” Another class Rehman thoroughly enjoyed was HSC200: Imaging Technologies for Scientific Visual Communication, as it taught her new skills such as being able to use Adobe Illustrator.       

            Rehman’s advice for undergraduate students is to “always check degree requirements before course selection.” During her time at UTM, Rehman did not get into the habit of checking beforehand. As a result, she often took courses she did not need and were not necessarily her forte. Rehman emphasizes that this allows students to save time and money and take the courses geared toward their future degrees. Rehman also encourages students to get involved in the UTM community, whether through a student organization or research opportunities offered in their programs, such as the ROP or the EXTERN program. Rehman explains how she learned more about her capabilities and interests outside of class than in lectures. Rehman’s last advice to students is to “prioritize your mental health and take your time.” She completed her degree in five years instead of four, and although she wishes she was not graduating amid a pandemic, she feels as though she was able to do more in her five years at UTM than others could in four years.

             Reflecting on graduating amid a pandemic, Rehman discusses the odd circumstances of the experience. Rehman explains that although her paper certificate is indicative of her graduation from U of T, she feels “guilty” for reveling or being proud of her accomplishments because there was no definite celebration to mark the completion of her undergraduate years. She is worried about her plans for the future as she hoped to enter the professional world in her field, while potentially pursuing a Master’s degree. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has only made finding a job much more complicated and draining. This is mainly because numerous graduates are seeking similar opportunities, in addition to those who unfortunately lost their jobs due to Covid-19. Despite this, Rehman’s years and experiences as a U of T student have shown her how to overcome obstacles, and she is motivated rather than discouraged about the challenges ahead.

Aliyah Khan, Environmental Science and Biology for Health Sciences

            To Aliyah Khan, being a U of T graduate means that although she could not walk across the stage in Convocation Hall, she feels she is “part of a new, supportive community.” Khan is proud to say that she is a U of T graduate because it displays her “dedication toward school and perseverance through tough years.” 

            Khan is also encouraged by the diverse and numerous courses the school provided over her undergraduate years. She explains her appreciation and love for many of her environmental science courses, including ENV100: Introduction to the Environment, GGR377: Climate Change, and EN495/496: Restoration Ecology. All three of these courses only further “piqued [her] interest in all the topics [she] wanted to pursue.”

            In the next year, Khan hopes to work and further her experience in the field of environmental science. She elaborates that environmental education and climate change are her passions, and so she will be grateful for a career exploring either of these fields. Khan also states that she hopes to go back to school in the next five years to continue her education, working toward a master’s degree.

            Khan explains how the transition to online classes was quick. “My professors started talking about the switch to online near the end of the semester, and final exams began changing to assignments.” Since Khan’s classes were small, this change enabled more robust communication during the online lectures and presentations. Khan stresses how she “can’t imagine doing full course loads online though for an entire semester,” and how lucky she was only to have to do it for the last few weeks of the semester.

            Khan’s first advice to undergraduate students is to “get involved on campus with clubs and activities as it makes the university experience so much more entertaining.” Her second piece of advice is to find a good study spot, whether for online or in-person classes. She finds that while it is easier to stay in her bedroom and do work and attend classes, this is not the ideal situation. She explains how she feels more productive working in other spots in the house. 

Lastly, Khan suggests attending all classes during the designated time, if possible. She emphasizes the importance of paying attention during class and avoiding using a phone or browsing other sites. Khan believes that the best way to achieve this is to “act as if the lectures are still in person,” as it encourages one to stay focused and avoid distractions. Khan found that by keeping this in mind, her notes were much more thorough, and she was engaging in class more efficiently and consistently.

Kyle Howard, Physics and Environmental Science

            Kyle Howard expresses that being a U of T graduate is an accomplishment in which he takes a lot of pride in as it took him “five long years to receive [his] degree.” He explains how this is evident in all his social media profiles, with his new status being a University of Toronto graduate. Being able to accomplish something that few others have accomplished holds special purpose and value to him.

            Despite being immersed in uncertain conditions, Howard feels as though he tried his best to plan for his future, which allowed him to acquire a new job at a company doing clerical business work. He hopes that he will continue to pursue other positions next year and find a career in the environmental science field. Discussing his plans for the next five years, Howard explains that his life goals are still shifting and are drastically different from those he set out for himself at the beginning of university. Ultimately, Howard hopes to find a job “that balances a stable work environment with my creative passions, such as writing or filmmaking.” 

            Currently, Howard plans to go back to school to pursue computer science and to use the skills he attained throughout his degree in more practical applications. He explains that a position providing him with creative freedom through a digital medium, such as web design or video game programming, would be incredible.   

            Howard states that his time at U of T “changed me as a person entirely […] I exit university a mature adult.” During his undergraduate years, the considerable skills he acquired include time management, organization, workplace professionalism, social networking, and mental health awareness. He believes his time at U of T has changed his perspective of the world, “opening my eyes to the many opportunities available and the value of my potential.”

            Kyle states, “If I were able to go back and tell my first-year university self all the things I have now accomplished during my undergraduate degree, I would have thought this was impossible.” He explains that learning at this institution pushed his limits further than he could have ever imagined he was capable of, showing him the precious value of post-secondary education. For this, he “will always be grateful for [his] time at the University of Toronto.”

Diego Altamira Olvera, CCIT and Professional Writing and Communications (PWC)

            Diego Olvera states that he is “proud of being a U of T graduate, although [he] is not always pleased with how the institution functions.” However, despite this, he is aware that his accomplishment is no easy feat. Olvera explains how his four years at UTM have shaped him in many ways, some he may not even be aware of at this stage in his life. He states that although “a 600,000-member alumni club may not sound too special, its members and the world know it is, and I am proud to be a part of it.”

            When asked about courses he thoroughly enjoyed, Olvera explains how fortunate the CCIT and PWC majors are in terms of unique courses at U of T. He further elaborates on “being able to be creative in many ways while attending two great institutions, Sheridan College and UTM.” Olvera’s favourite courses include WRI327, WRI365, CCT260, and CCT434. 

            With the pandemic still looming over the world, Olvera finds that his plans for the next year have changed to accommodate for the current circumstances. Nevertheless, he says that he will focus on gaining more experience in his field while also making money to pay his student loans. That being said, Olvera hopes to find a job in which he “can practice and build skills to prepare for a hopefully pandemic-free future.” His goal is to have a position working as part of a team, company, or as a freelancer within an environment that will allow him to provide graphic design services.

            Olvera elaborates on finishing his degree during a pandemic, saying it was very anomalous in multiple aspects. To begin, he was surprised by the unexpected introduction to the Zoom platform—unaware of its existence until this year. He also touches upon the shared experience of waking up five minutes before his 9 a.m. classes and being able to see his professor lecture on his phone screen. Just as he believes things could not be more surprising, he discusses how he was “watching [his] convocation ceremony on YouTube and receiving [his] diploma hours later by a FedEx worker.”

            Olvera’s message for students working toward graduating is to “keep going.” He emphasizes the importance of perseverance despite the difficulties brought forth by the pandemic, making the university experience much more complicated. He states that although at times, “there seems to be no end in sight, this does not mean you will not graduate. With each passing class, each submitted paper, each finished test means you are that much closer to the end.”

Devin Hunt, History and Art/Art History

            Through her struggles, Devin Hunt feels an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment in being a U of T graduate. She is certain that “completing my degree at U of T has left me with a confidence that I’m not sure another school could have given me.” Her degree and her experience have given her the strength to conquer any challenges she may face. 

            Hunt states that she feels she can go anywhere in the world with her degree and it will be “worth just as much as it’s worth in Canada.”

            With this sense of security, Hunt hopes to get a visa and fly to Australia to enter her first year of the Master of Art Curatorship program at the University of Melbourne. In the future, she looks forward to gaining experience in working at art galleries and figuring out where she wants to ground her career. 

Hunt was inspired to apply to this program when she was exploring opportunities to study abroad with U of T. She spent the beginning of the past Winter semester in Melbourne on an exchange but was called home in light of the pandemic. For this reason, she doesn’t feel like there was a proper and concrete ending to her study abroad experience. 

             To UTM students, Hunt emphasizes that it is “important for students to recognize their own worth and the value of their ideas. Just because you may not be performing as well as you’d like in certain courses doesn’t mean that you, as a student and member of the U of T community, are any less important than another student who makes news headlines and wins awards.” 

She believes in the importance of working on something that makes you proud, which will, in turn, inspire others. As Hunt expands her horizons, she encourages other students to do the same by exploring their passions within and beyond their coursework. 

Hunt concludes by stating, “I was rarely at the top of my classes, but the impact my education has had on my own interests, abilities, and beliefs is immense. My time at U of T allowed me to discover what I’m most passionate about, and I’m shaping my future around it.”

The Medium congratulates all U of T Fall 2020 graduates and wishes them the best in their upcoming endeavors. 

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