Education

‘The finish line I never got to cross’ Covid graduates reflect on their final year at university

Ann McDonald speaks to university students who completed their studies in the midst of a pandemic. Photo courtesy of University of Limerick.

UL students who graduated during the Covid-19 lockdowns reflect on their experiences

By Ann Mc Donald

Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, college life took place online from March 2020 and for the majority of the 2020/21 academic year. 

This meant that many fourth-year and Master’s students missed out on a traditional graduation, as well as a ‘normal’ final year of college. 

While graduation events were live-streamed online in late 2021 in lieu of an in-person ceremony, these students had to wait until April 2022 to attend an in-person event to celebrate their achievements. 

UL Digital Media Design student Fintan Brennan is one of many students who spent their final year online. 

Fintan Brennan studied Digital Media Design at the University of Limerick and is one of many students who spent their final year online. 

He noted that he had planned on using the computer labs on campus to complete his college work, but instead had to use his personal computer, which did not have the software that is available on campus computers, and was not as powerful. 

Fintan also noted that doing college work remotely lead to challenges at home, as he found it difficult to separate his home and college lives. 

“I fell into a cycle of waking up, working in my bedroom, relaxing in my bedroom, then going to bed, and repeating that cycle day after day. It also meant that I couldn’t collaborate with others in my course in person, which was a big change considering we had regular study groups, pre-pandemic,” he explained. 

He noted that not having an in-person graduation at the time was a huge motivational loss during his final year. 

“I never had a singular moment where I felt like I had graduated since my graduation was held remotely. I didn’t bother dressing up or celebrating the occasion, and I felt that the ceremony of graduating was the finish line I never got to cross. We had the option to attend an in-person graduation a few months after I graduated, however at that point, I felt that the moment had passed and I had moved on,” he said.

When discussing life after graduation, Fintan said that the cost of rent in his area had increased so he remained at home with his parents, but a huge number of available remote jobs allowed him to get his first graduate-level job as a Marketing Executive. Fintan is currently working part-time and is undertaking a Master’s in Technical Communication and E-Learning at UL.

Aisling Redmond, who completed her Bachelor of Technology (Education) in Materials and Architectural Technology online in 2021, said that she was able to secure a job immediately after finishing college as there was a high demand for teachers. 

She found her final year experience was much less stressful than other years, as she had access to much more resources online. 

“If I missed a lecture, I could catch up online. If I didn’t fully understand something in a tutorial, the notes were available online. I could watch lectures when it suited my schedule. It was the highest my college grades ever were,” she explained. 

Aisling is currently two years into a teaching role in Ardscoil Rathangan, Kildare and is “loving it”.

“I hope to permanently stay there,” she admits. 

The online approach also suited UL Law Plus student Niamh Tubridy, who said she could “adapt my learning around my life, which enabled me to take up employment during my final year due to the flexibility it allowed me.” 

However, similar to Fintan, she missed the social aspect that college life brings, saying, “It was a very isolating experience, and I missed my friends and being surrounded by my peers.”

Since she did not have an in-person graduation ceremony, she instead went to UL with her family dressed in unofficial graduation robes, using a rolled-up piece of paper to create her own graduation photos. 

Covid-graduate Niamh went to UL with her family dressed in unofficial graduation robes, using a rolled-up piece of paper to create her own graduation photos. 

After finishing college, Niamh sat her Bar of Ireland exams and spent a year studying for the degree of Barrister-at-Law. She was called to the bar in July this year and is currently undergoing her year of pupillage. 

Ghadi Khalili, who traveled from Dubai to Ireland in 2019, to experience a new piece of the world and complete a Masters in Business Administration, also celebrated his graduation with peers in an event they organised themselves. 

“I had just one full semester on campus at UL, and those few months were really enjoyable. I liked my classes, and I looked forward to the interactions that I’d have with my peers after class. I’d stay on campus in between classes to spend time with them, and after classes, I’d have society meetings to attend,” he said.  

“From my perspective, Covid-19 had a somewhat positive effect on my studies, which I know wasn’t a universal experience, as I preferred the approach of doing assignments in my own space.

“One of the main stresses for me, especially around exams, was talking to people as that can build up more tension,” he explained. 

Ghadi found working from home much simpler in that regard, as he could focus purely on his own studies. 

He found it difficult to secure a relevant job for the first few months after graduation, but now works from home as a Business Development Representative. 

It is clear that the event of Covid-19 affected students in many different ways, with some seeing the benefits of remote work, while others feel they missed out on the chance to recognise their hard work at graduation.

Despite the testing years that coincided with their university experience, it is important that students feel pride in navigating those unprecedented times and emerging from them scroll-in-hand.

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