College grads face uncertain futures

Virtual ceremonies and lackluster job market among their worries

Area college seniors will be attending online graduations, having delayed ceremonies — or are even giving up on the idea of a formal ceremony.

Nicole Holko, 39, of Greene Township, a nursing student at Kent State University Ashtabula campus, said she was disappointed about not having a traditional college graduation ceremony with all of her family, friends and fellow students in attendance. But Holko is optimistic about her future after graduation.

Two of her fellow nursing school classmates, Brittany Cooper of Rome Township and Robert Cogar of Madison, also expressed optimism.

On the other hand, two Youngstown State University students — Nathanael Hawthorne of Austintown, a telecommunications major, and Sarah Dubos of Newton Falls, a theater major — are both disappointed by not being able to experience their last semesters on campus with friends, and are concerned about their future careers.

YSU will be having a virtual commencement ceremony beginning 10 a.m. Saturday. Tom Shipka, a former philosophy and religious studies department head, will be the keynote speaker. The ceremony will be shown on YouTube and Facebook.

“While nothing can replace us coming together to celebrate, this virtual experience is an opportunity for our graduates to share this special day with family and friends,” Brien Smith, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said.

As one of 34 nursing school graduates at Ashtabula campus, Holko was going to receive both her diploma, and a nursing pin during a separate ceremony.

“I was planning to have my children and one of my professors place the pin on my lapel,” Holko said. “My family has sacrificed so much, allowing me to take this intensive two-year nursing program. Going to school is a much bigger juggling act for nontraditional students with families than it is for others.

“I wanted them to experience the culmination of what all of this work was all about,” she said.

Over the last few weeks, Holko has been gathering photographs from her classmates to create a slideshow for their virtual commencement ceremony.

“I want to make the graduation personal,” she said.

Although job loss in Ohio and across the nation has grown significantly over the last six weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Holko is confident she will be able to find a job at an area hospital.

“I’ve had job interviews,” she said. “I’m not really worried. There always is going to be a need for nurses.”

Nursing is a second career path for Holko. She graduated from ETI Technical College in Niles, a two-year medical assisting program, and worked in the field for about 10 years, before deciding to become a full-time wife and mother.

Cooper, 21, said the last semester has been stressful — as much for what they were not able to do as for what they were required to do.

“We had a lot of busy work instead of doing clinicals,” Cooper said. “I was looking forward to doing clinicals. I wanted to be doing real-life patient care.”

Cooper will be attending Ohio University in Athens in the fall.

Cogar, 24, also a nursing student, already works in registration in an emergency room for University Hospital in Conneaut.

“I’ve been looking forward to my graduation,” Cogar said. “I was slotted to possibly speak at my graduation.”

Cogar’s grandparents, who live in California, were planning to attend his graduation ceremony.

“That’s been flipped on its side,” he said. “They will not be coming.”

Hawthorne, 24, a Youngstown State University senior with a major in telecommunications with a minor in journalism, has been feeling bad because he lost his part-time job and will not be able to walk across the stage to receive his diploma.

“When I get my diploma, I will be the first person in my family to graduate from a four-year university,” Hawthorne said. “Coming to my commencement ceremony was to be a big deal for my family.”

Hawthorne does not intend to participate in the virtual graduation.

“If the university has an actual commencement in the fall, I will attend,” he said.

Sarah Dubos, 22, a theater studies major at YSU, began her senior year with the idea of making it a year of memories.

“I worked really hard during my first three years in college,” she said. “My plan for my senior year was to take in everything, laugh and enjoy time with the friends I’ve made over the last four years — people who I might not see again, because many will leave to find jobs and start careers.”

Because the state closed universities and theaters, Dubos said both her on-campus classes and her internship at the Cleveland Playhouse ended at about the same time.

Dubos worries about the next phase of her life. Both her plan A and plan B have fallen through.

“It is kind of scary for most graduates, but especially for those in the arts,” she said. “The arts may be in trouble for a long time. There’s a lot of uncertainty. It is hard not being able to plan out the steps. No one envisions moving back home and maybe getting a part-time job at a store.”

Dubos said her major’s focus has been in production and stage management. She worked mostly on the technical side.

“YSU gave me a ton of experience,” she said. “I have the skills I need to succeed. It is important that we all look at the future with hope and a positive outlook on the future.”

Eastern Gateway Community College will have its virtual graduation ceremony on June 6. The ceremonies will be at varied times during the day. Currently, Eastern Gateway has an estimated 1,850 students expected to graduate.



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