Class of 2020: Graduating in the time of COVID-19
By Peng Weizi and Wang Le
Two senior students at a graduation ceremony at Wuhan University, June 20, 2020. /CFP

Two senior students at a graduation ceremony at Wuhan University, June 20, 2020. /CFP

Graduation in the year 2020 is like no other. In China, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced almost all colleges and universities to close down from February, affecting 8.7 million seniors at the start of graduation season.

The impact of COVID-19 lingers in June. With precautionary measures still in place around China, celebration events have been limited, and many students' college life has been brought to an abrupt end.

Waving goodbye with regrets

"I've already booked my tickets to Beijing, but now I have to cancel them," said Wang Wenzhuo, a senior at Beijing Foreign Studies University. Planning to return to school on June 20, Wang's trip was canceled due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Beijing related to Xinfadi wholesale market.

Her academic certificate will come by mail, along with her belongings in the dorm, which she authorized her school counselor to pack up and send back to her home in Shandong Province.

Staff from Beijing Foreign Studies University piled up boxes filled with graduates' belongings which will be sent back to students' homes. /BFSU WeChat account

Staff from Beijing Foreign Studies University piled up boxes filled with graduates' belongings which will be sent back to students' homes. /BFSU WeChat account

"These could be the last days in my student career and I have so many things I regret. I wasn't able to meet my friends and teachers. There is no graduation trip, no commencement ceremony, no photos in a graduation gown," Wang Wenzhuo told CGTN digital. "I also want to eat from the school canteen for one last time, but now I have no chance."

In a survey by China Youth Daily of some 2020 graduates, 93.95 percent of these seniors feel the lack of graduation events has left them with regrets. Schools have rolled out different measures to compensate for the situation, including Wang Wenzhuo's school offering its class of 2020 the chance to sign up for a graduation ceremony in the next three years.

Unexpected graduation ceremony

Unlike Wang who has to wait at least a year to consummate her student career, some graduates got lucky and were able to be involved in this year's celebrations.

"I didn't expect that we would have an offline ceremony this year," said Wei Qi, a fresh graduate from Wuhan University. The central China city hard-hit by coronavirus has flattened its curve, with no new confirmed cases, including asymptomatic cases, reported since June 1. But the city is still applying social-distancing measures and large gatherings are usually not allowed.

Wei Qi is among 660 graduates who attended the smaller-scale graduation ceremony in Wuhan University on June 20, while 15,000 of her other peers joined online.

Aerial photo of a graduation ceremony at Wuhan University, June 20, 2020. /CFP

Aerial photo of a graduation ceremony at Wuhan University, June 20, 2020. /CFP

Born and raised in Wuhan, the 25-year-old shared her moment of tears during the graduation ceremony: “It was when the school showed videos of the alumni working in the front line, many in our school's affiliated hospitals, fighting the coronavirus in the hardest of times. When you think of their contributions you know what 'great love' is.”

Wei Qi's graduation is not without its regrets. She said that as her classmates returned to school in different batches, they cannot take a group photo together. "It's a tradition in our school to put out each year's graduation group photo in the hall. I don't know what they will do about this year's photo. Probably Photoshop," she joked.

Job seeking and further education

Another great concern among the graduates is job seeking during economic slowdown. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, China's government departments, state-owned enterprises and public institutions have been helping young job seekers by offering them more opportunities.

Chen Dong, chief economist of Wuhan's State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), said that the enterprises under SASAC's supervision planned to make 14,656 offers to graduates, up 7 percent from last year. Local governments and schools are also working together to help students find jobs.

Since March, online job fairs encouraged by Shanghai government have offered over 230,000 job openings to graduates, according to the Shanghai Education Commission. Ye Qing, a graduate from the School of English Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, said the university has been constantly offering students information of online job fairs. "Some of my classmates managed to find jobs at local high schools as teachers, thanks to Shanghai's policies," she said.

Graduates met with employers at a job fair in Shanghai on June 22. /CFP

Graduates met with employers at a job fair in Shanghai on June 22. /CFP

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in January, Ye Qing has not been able to return to university. Meetings, thesis presentation and graduation procedures were conducted online, with school staff answering to students' inquiries almost 24/7. Her school is going to hold an online graduation ceremony in late June.

Ye has been offered an opportunity to study at a university in Netherlands, starting from this fall. But her first semester will be spent in China taking online courses together with her classmates from different countries, as the world is fighting the same battle.

"I plan to go to my university in Netherlands next January if it is possible," she said, "I'm looking forward to the day when we can travel freely."