What to do when your senior year in college gets canceled?

I really wish my senior year at Saginaw Valley State University felt a little less like the start of a crappy YA dystopian novel, but here we are. I won’t be walking in May because of COVID-19. I won’t be able to say goodbye to the college newspaper staff I’ve worked with for four years. I won’t be able to give my graduating staff their cords or name a staff member of the year. I don’t get to have deliberate and meaningful lasts with the peers I’ve learned and grown up with for the last four years.  Kaitlyn Farley is an SVSU senior from Warren, Michigan. She is the editor of SVSU’s student-run newspaper, The Valley Vanguard.

I didn’t get to take my editors to the Michigan Staff Association Convention, where they’d get professional development opportunities they’ve been asking for all year. I didn’t get to go to Washington, D.C. for the newspaper fellowship I worked hard for. I’ve had job interviews postponed or canceled indefinitely. My current work hours have been cut to essentially non-existent.

My friends in education, social work, and nursing don’t know what fieldwork will look like. My theater and music peers have to Skype their performances to professors, and they won’t be able to have the final recitals and performances they’ve prepped for all semester.

So, what do you do when your senior year gets canceled?

You acknowledge that the situation sucks and mourn your losses. You sit with your feelings of grief and sadness and anger, but then you do the next right thing.

Disney quote aside, it’s good advice. What can you do now to help yourself and others? For me, that’s doing what I know what to do best: report the news.

My parents asked me why I won’t leave campus. It’s largely because I’m the editor-in-chief of The Valley Vanguard, our on-campus newspaper, and my staff essentially just got cut from 23 to myself and another editor or two. I can’t leave because I’m a reporter, and students have questions I need to help answer.

Yes, I could potentially do that from home, but it makes things incredibly more difficult. It’s that much harder to reach sources, that much harder to break the news quickly. With how confused and upset and rattled my peers are right now, I want to be sure I am here to do my job well and help as much as I can.

SVSU has sent students so much communication as things change, which has proved to be good and bad. It’s incredibly difficult to know what the newest information is. It’s easy to overlook an email or even a line in an email. But that email or sentence could be the knowing whether a service you need is available or canceled or moved to online-only.

I drove myself nearly crazy trying to get each and every update out to students through The Vanguard. We posted a record amount of social media and website articles during the last week. Because most my staff have left campus, I’ve written all of those articles (and a huge thank you to my photo and design editor for posting them on Instagram).

But I know every other reporter is in the same position as me, and we’re all doing our best to do the next right thing, even if, right now, that is a rather flustering thing to do. With so much panic and confusion, it’s more important than ever to remain clear-minded, listen to the questions your readers have, and dig deep for the answers.

Doctors, nurses, truck drivers, grocery store clerks, and so many others are working overtime to keep their communities safe. Reporters, too, must refrain from panic and get to work fighting against fake news and misinformation to help calm panic and keep their communities informed.

To my fellow seniors: Graduating is already a scary, anxiety-inducing time because of the uncertainty of what happens after we leave our universities. But now we’ll be entering a world mid-pandemic, and none of us know what that’s going to look like.

I understand why people are telling us to look at the bigger picture, to feel lucky and blessed for what we have now.

But these are unprecedented times, and most of us were already feeling unprepared for the world beyond university. While it’s a pretty crappy consolation, at least there’s this: We’re going through this together.

To my peers, you’re not alone. You are justified in your feelings of grief and sadness and anger and confusion. I don’t know what’s going to happen post-graduation, but I’m ready to shape that future together. No matter how scary or uncertain things get, I’ll be here taking that journey with you.                                                               

Even though we won’t walk in May to celebrate our successes, that doesn’t diminish anything that the class of 2020 has achieved. We survived four years of college together. We can survive this, too.

Kaitlyn Farley is from Warren, Michigan. She graduated from Warren Mott High School and is currently a double-major at Saginaw Valley State University in professional and technical writing and history.