Illinois State University’s graduating seniors are grappling with a double dose of bad news this week: They won’t be able to finish out their final semester on campus, and they’re now entering a job market that’s a lot shakier than it was a few weeks ago.
ISU announced this week will not return to in-person classes for the rest of the spring semester, extending a shift to online learning. That’s led to a cascade of cancellations, including the Gamma Phi Circus spring shows and Sibling Weekend. It’s also impacted the many local businesses that rely on ISU-related consumer spending. The Jimmy John’s in Uptown Normal, for example, has temporarily closed due in part to a loss in foot traffic.
ISU is still exploring options for commencement (May 8-9). The University of Illinois has already canceled its commencement ceremonies.
“I definitely don’t think that should even be an option. It was a sacrifice that so many students made—time and energy and money,” said Vanesa Velazquez, 21, a senior international business and Spanish major who is graduating in May. She is a first-generation college student.
“I understand it’s for the safety of everyone, but if it comes down to that, they should consider rescheduling it rather than canceling it fully,” she said.
ISU’s shift to online classes also puts other end-of-year events at risk, such as the Umoja celebration ceremony for black graduates. Senior recreational management major Kendall Jordan said while the thought of not having the experience is disappointing, he intends to continue moving forward.
“I’ve been looking at black graduation for the past two years, watching friends and fraternity brothers walk the stage, but now I'm not going to be able to walk across the stage,” Jordan said. “At the end of the day I feel bad, but I gotta keep high hopes for my future so I can keep pushing.”
Velazquez said Tuesday’s announcement was disappointing because she was looking forward to her final weeks on campus and saying last goodbyes to her friends.
She’s also worrying about finding a job.
“It’s definitely scary. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Velazquez said. “And with me wanting to pursue higher education, it definitely puts me in a pickle, considering they might not even want to hire people considering the circumstances and offices potentially being closed until further notice.”
Issac Hollis, a senior organizational and leadership communication major and Black Student Union president, said the changes have caused him to lose his on-campus job, which weighs heavily on his plans for after graduation.
“My next step is hopefully grad school,” Hollis said. “I didn't get an email yet, but the application is done. I’ve just been thinking about how I don't know when all this will blow over and how there’s a possibility I don’t start grad school because I don’t have a job right now,” Hollis said.
“I'm gonna need something because all of the jobs I had were school jobs and they all revolve around people, and so with those jobs, unless you like working in the hospital, you really don't have a job. So that is also very stressful to think about,” Hollis said.
The ISU Career Center wants to reassure students and help them keep a positive outlook on their futures, said Director Pam Cooper.
“That’s the first thing we have to reassure students of. There is still hope, there is definitely hope in the future. It just looks different from a career perspective,” she said.
Cooper said certain sectors will need even more talent, including health care, human and social service agencies, and technology. And even now, good problem-solvers with interpersonal communication skills and an analytical acumen will be valuable, Cooper said.
“Those skills won’t go away, whatever the career,” Cooper said. “They can anticipate new or at least different career opportunities in the future, knowing those skillsets will be needed.”
ISU President Larry Dietz said he hopes Redbirds can stay connected—virtually, of course—during their social isolation. He stressed that no decision has been made about commencement.
“It’s right to be disappointed, to be sad, about not finishing out the semester on the campus,” Dietz said. “But the main thing right now is we want people to be safe. That’s our primary concern. This is not the way things planned to turn out for this semester for anybody, but we’re making the best of a tough situation.”
“I have every confidence that Redbirds are resilient folks and they’ll come back and this crisis will be over and we’ll resume some normalcy as soon as we can,” he said.
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